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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Alexander LOKSHIN (1920-1987)
Songs of Margaret (1973) [21.31]
Symphony No. 7 for contralto and chamber orchestra (based on Japanese poems of the Seventh and Thirteenth Centuries) (1972) [20.07]
Symphony No. 10 for contralto, mixed chorus and chamber orchestra (to lyrics by Nikolai Zabolotsky) (1975) [33.24]
Nina Grigorieva (alto) (symphonies)
Ludmila Sokolenko (sop) (symphonies)
Moscow Chamber Choir
Moscow Chamber Orchestra/Rudolf Barshai
rec 1974, 1976 (10), Melodiya Studios, Moscow, ADD
LAUREL RECORD LR-901 CD [75.15]

AVAILABILITY

www.laurelrecords.com

Rudolf Barshai has a special and mutually beneficent relationship with Herschel Burke Gillbert's Laurel Record company. Barshai collectors need to search out not only Barshai's Melodiya and EMI Classics discs but also Laurel's Brahms symphonies (2 and 4) and his Mozart and Rachmaninov.

It was Barshai who formed the Moscow Chamber Orchestra and with them premiered Lokshin's Symphonies, 4, 5, 7, 9 and 10 as well as the Songs of Margaret. Tragically Lokshin, who never trimmed his sail to match the Soviet westerlies, died virtually forgotten in his native USSR.

The Songs of Margaret are related to the Trois Scènes du Faust de Goethe on BIS-CD-1156, a work of 37 minutes duration by comparison with the 18 minutes of the Songs of Margaret. It is written in a caustically romantic style which I link with a work such as Nicholas Maw's Scenes and Arias. Imagine a series of five 'mad scenes'. This is Puccini filtered through Berg and through Shostakovich. There you have a broad approximation of the style. The singer is called on to vault the skies more than once (e.g. tr.4 1.09) and this she does consummately. It would have been far too easy to portray Goethe's Margaret as inhumanly demented but Lokshin's power also conveys compassion; indeed the cycle ends with an overpowering sense of tender resolve.

The orchestra sounds bigger and bolder that the chamber orchestra ‘tag’ lead me to believe and the Kharkiv-born soprano Ludmilla Sokolenko meets every one of the volcanic challenges of the score with power and emotional commitment. She has a grand operatic voice captured unshrinkingly by the Melodiya engineers.

The 1970s must have been a time of giddy cornucopiac activity for Lokshin. These two symphonies fall, temporally, either side of the Margaret Songs. The Seventh Symphony is memorable for its liquid horn solos, unmistakably old-time Russian in the introduction (tr.8) and in Minamoto Saneaki (tr 12). The trumpet is just as Slavonically blatant. Though normally sure-footed the engineers just occasionally miscalculate. Was it really necessary, in The road is paved with flowers for the engineers to pull back on the recording levels. The music brilliantly captures the steady descent of the thermometer towards the chilly end of mortality.

Three years and three symphonies onwards comes the Tenth Symphony which embraces the words of one poet rather than the Britten and Shostakovich anthology habit. The Tenth charts a mood trajectory similar to that of the Seventh curving from a perspective in which warmth is cooled by thoughts of death to autumn and wintry bereavement; typically Russian.

The recording quality is cavernous. I note that these recordings were in the studio within two to five years of the completion of the compositions.

The words of the three works are printed in translation in the 28 page insert booklet. They are given in English translations by Walter Barshai. The sung words (Russian … as you would expect) are not printed. I rather missed them and certainly it would have been good to have them in transliteration; indeed this is preferable to giving the words in Cyrillic (as happened with the recent Chandos set of Prokofiev's The Story of a Real Man) which is likely to be of little direct value to English monoglots wanting to follow the contours of the sung words.

The booklet essays are well written and admirably preoccupied with facts. The use of a bold font throughout is a minor distraction.

Powerfully intense traversals of a fascination with death and bereavement. Typically Russian.

Rob Barnett



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