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Nikolai MIASKOVSKY (1881-1950)
The Complete Symphonic Works: Olympia Volume 10
Symphony No. 14 (1935) [37.16]
Symphony No. 22 (1941) [36.25]
Russian Federation Academic Symphony Orchestra/Evgeny Svetlanov
rec: Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, Russia, 1991-3 (14) DDD; 1970 (22) ADD
OLYMPIA OCD 740 [74.31]


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This is the world premiere recording of the Fourteenth Symphony - a work written in the oppressive milieu of state edicts that musical works must reflect socialist realism. After the morose and gloomy Thirteenth the Fourteenth's folksy artlessness was more in keeping with the political correctness of the times. Miaskovsky's use of five movements also suggested less of a grim symphonic mien; something closer to a suite. The first three movements and the finale are strongly folk-Rimskian like symphonies 18, 23 and 26. The fourth movement shivers, emulating the nocturne from Ravel's Rapsodie Espagnole and then sculls through the same cloud-darkened waters as Eugene Goossens' By the Tarn and parts of Van Dieren's Chinese Symphony. This is still one of Miaskovsky's lighter efforts with the character, if not the exact impress, of Prokofiev's writing in his first and last symphonies. The RFASO's brass strike the mot juste with a tone that is half blurt and half raspberry splendour.

The Twenty-Second (also termed ‘Symphony-Ballad’) will be known to Miaskovskian old hands from ages gone. They will know it from the EMI-Melodiya ASD LP of circa 1971 to the late 1980s Olympia reissue with Feigin's excellent version of the Violin Concerto. It is a superb work, burnished and radiant with baritonal Russian spirit. The orchestra plays with fervour. The gripping playing of the strings and defiant nobility of the brass deserve special mention. I suggest you ignore the wartime mottos attached to each of the three movements and just absorb the vigour and passion of the playing. The echo-singing of the heaven-clawing strings in the first movement recalls his first 'war symphony' (the masterly Fifth). Another cross-reference can be found in the accented pizzicato of the finale at 4.09 and 7.49 - for all the world like Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances completed within a year before the Miaskovsky symphony. The vein of desperation, grief (tangible in the central quasi adagio with its thematic link to the first movement) and striving nobility can be traced also to the similarly impressive symphonies 24 and 25. The three movements are played attacca.

The premieres took place as follows: 14 Moscow, Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra/Viktor Kubatzky (the dedicatee), 24 February 1935. 22, Tbilisi, conducted by Abram Stasevich, 12 January 1942.

I reviewed the first five volumes in this momentous and musically rewarding project about two years ago. With agreeably implacable determination Olympia issued another four volumes last year. This is the tenth of what will eventually be seventeen volumes.

Per Skans' programme notes (English, French and German) remain a definitive presence with illuminating links made between cultural life and political history.

The Russian Federation Academic Symphony Orchestra was previously the Russian State SO and before that the USSR State SO. Its conductors numbered Alexander Gauk (1936-41), Nathan Rakhlin (1941-5), Konstantin Ivanov (1946-65), Svetlanov (1965-2000) and latterly Vassily Sinaisky.

The recording qualities running through the digital parts of the cycle are always good in a grand-hall sort of way; resonant and lively, though with a tendency to play up the denser string textures. There is a hint of analogue crowding in the strident pay-off in the finale of the Symphony No. 22.

As already mentioned, when complete there will seventeen volumes in this series. Seventeen happens to be the number of characters in the name 'Nikolai Myaskovsky' and this happy coincidence is exploited by Olympia putting one character of the seventeen at the foot of the spine of each disc case. When you have all seventeen in volume number order Miaskovsky's name will be spelt out on your shelves - a nice though inconsequential touch.

Two aspects of Miaskovsky displayed in two symphonies: the Rimskian folk-naif 14th and the deeply serious-heroic 22nd - the latter developing a swinging-trudging charge similar to that of the celebrated 21st Symphony.

Rob Barnett

see also Nikolai MIASKOVSKY A Survey of the Chamber Works, Orchestral Music and Concertos on Record By JONATHAN WOOLF




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