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Alla PAVLOVA (b.1952)
Symphony No.1 "Farewell Russia" * [25:52]
Symphony No.3 # [40:53]
Leonid Lebedev: Flute*
Nikolay Lotakov: Piccolo*
Mikhail Shestakov: Violin*
Valery Brill: Cello*
Mikhail Adamovich: Piano*
Olga Vedernikova: Violin#
Russian Philharmonic Orchestra
Cond: Konstantin D. Krimets* and Alexander Vedernikov#
Rec. Russian Broadcasting Studio, Moscow, 1 June 1995* and 10-14 Dec 2001#
NAXOS 21ST.CENTURY CLASSICS 8.557157 [66:46]


Alla Pavlova, born in 1952, is one of those Russian composers who had their musical education under the Soviet system. Pavlova’s flowering as a composer has been taking place in a totally different world, especially in her case, as she has been living in New York since 1990.

Symphony No.1, written in 1994, bears the subtitle "Farewell to Russia", and is an emotional response to her discovery, on a return visit to Moscow, that the "country where we were born and brought up, where we received our first, childish impressions of the world, where we were shaped and matured as individuals, that this country seemed no longer to exist". This personal opinion was corroborated by her old friends in Moscow, amongst whom there was a deep feeling of both insecurity and depression, together with an uncertainty in what the future may bring.

The symphony is scored for a chamber ensemble made up of string quintet, two flutes, piccolo, harp, piano, vibraphone and tam-tam – an unusual yet surprisingly effective collection of instruments. The sleeve-note says that in an interview in April 1996 the composer said that the symphony’s subtitle "expresses not only her personal feelings but, she believes, conveys the moods and thoughts of many people in Russia at that particular time of drastic changes in their society". It may seem a strange thing to say but despite the rigid control the State had over society in Soviet times, there was a kind of innocence that existed there, perhaps as a result of its relative isolation from the influence of western society. I say this having been a frequent visitor to friends in Moscow in those times, as well as to the other countries within its political orbit, including spending four years in Prague in the 1970s. Therefore, I can well imagine the "culture shock" Alla Pavlova experienced on her return to Moscow after spending a number of years in New York.

The music, it seems to me, reflects that innocence with its simplicity, exemplified by the sparse scoring for the small ensemble, which creates a wistful aura, and the symphony leaves one with a feeling of sadness and empathy with the composer and her friends whose Russia of their youth has disappeared forever.

Alla Pavlova, so the sleeve note says "has a special interest in writing music for film, dance, theatre and children", and all these elements, it seems to me, come into play in her Symphony No.3, written in 2000. The music reminded me of both Ippolitov-Ivanov’s "Caucasian Sketches" and Maurice Jarre’s music for "Dr. Zhivago" – in other words it has some very recognisable "Russian themes", and is extremely romantic in content, creating a soulful, reflective and melancholy mood. The symphony is set over four movements without any indications of tempo, which is in fact, the same throughout. Really it comprises a reworking of one or two ideas, and each movement comes back to them from a similar angle. I also detected a Bulgarian influence that the composer must have drawn from the three years she spent in Sofia working for the Bulgarian National Opera, though it was "Lara’s theme" from Dr. Zhivago that most often came to mind while I listened.

The composer has some extremely lofty ideals when it comes to what she hopes the music imparts to the listener, for she says that she hopes "that this music will provide support and inspiration to the listeners at difficult moments of their lives, and will strengthen faith in their destiny and in the profound significance of a human life" (!) It’s not, therefore, surprising to note that her source of inspiration to write this symphony was a statue of Joan of Arc near to her home in New York. This music, after listening to it several times, has yet to speak to me as Alla Pavlova would wish, but should it do so then I shall reach for it at times when I feel need of the support she seeks to offer. When I do feel I need such support it is Beethoven’s string quartets that speak to me most directly in that respect.

It is interesting to note that this disc is in Naxos’s ‘21st. Century Classics’ series, as it seems a little premature to put any music so recently written into such a bracket when only time will determine whether it is of lasting significance. Meanwhile, it is a fact that though written in 2000, this music has its roots most firmly in the late 19th. century romantic tradition. There’s nothing wrong with that as far as I’m concerned as it’s good to know that people are still motivated to write hummable tunes, but I just wish she had developed her themes a little more so that the symphony was a more satisfactory whole.

Steve Arloff


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