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Evgeny Svetlanov
Mikhail GLINKA
(1804-1857)

Symphony on Two Russian Themes in D minor (1834) [13’56].
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

Symphony No. 1 in D, Op. 25, ‘Classical’ (1917) [13’47].
Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Symphony No. 3 in D, Op. 29, ‘Polish’ (1875) [45’26].
USSR State Symphony Orchestra/Evgeny Svetlanov.
Live performances from Usher Hall, Edinburgh, on August 24th, 1968. ADD
BBC LEGENDS/IMG ARTISTS BBCL4145-2 [73’58]


Alan Sanders’ notes for this release dwell heavily on the political circumstances surrounding this concert. On 20 August 1968, Russian tanks arrived in the then Czechoslovakia; the following evening, the USSR State SO was guesting at the Proms (and playing Czech music to boot - the Dvořák Cello Concerto, with Rostropovich). Four days later, the orchestra found itself in Edinburgh, to give the concert on this disc. Certainly there is an intensity of concentration that runs through the three works

Work on Ruslan and Lyudmila (itself recently represented - excellently - in the release lists: see review ) interrupted a projected symphony by Glinka, and the result was the Symphony on Two Russian Themes (the first movement of said symphony). It has hardly been over-represented, and the authentic nature of this account eclipses Chandos’ 2000 version with Sinaisky and the BBC Philharmonic (CHAN9861).

Straightaway under Svetlanov, the characteristic Russian-ness of the piece is clear, with acidic oboe and tender yet deep string sound. There is a also a particularly Russian involvement with matters contrapuntal as themes are tossed around the orchestra, a trait to reappear to great effect in the ‘Polish’ that concludes the present programme. There is an exuberance to Svetlanov’s presentation of this motivic interplay that takes it from the academic and places it firmly in the realm of the human.

The Prokofiev ‘Classical’ symphony is given a magnificent performance. The first movement is busy but not flat out (like many). The Larghetto is when Svetlanov and Prokofiev seem to meld into one, with magic alive in every bar. The high (and I mean high) violin entry is miraculous; the solo clarinet oozes character, as does the staccato solo bassoon. Just a touch more cheek would have made it. The Gavotte is rather teasing; flutes at around 1’20 are straight from the ballet stage. But what really makes this reading is the frenzied slapstick of the finale, sparkling and imbued with tremendous drive and energy (it sounds more like Shostakovich in madcap mood than Prokofiev!).

The earlier Tchaikovsky symphonies benefit from unswerving advocacy such as that Svetlanov displays. The intense concentration of the opening is entirely apt (I referred to the pizzicati as ‘dead’ in my notes, befitting the funeral march connotations of the first part of this movement). The extended and muted introduction serves as a foil for the festive Allegro brillante (the strings really dig in here), full of drive and excitement. If the ‘Alla tedesca’ second movement could have more of the suave, more of the raised eyebrow about it, it still fits in with Svetlanov’s secure, long-range view of this music. The lovely solo contributions of the third movement (of five), especially the solo horn, contribute to an overall peace. The woodwind almost seem to be ‘crying’ their parts, so touching is the playing at times. This could surely only come from a Russian orchestra with Russian conductor.

Interestingly, Tchaikovsky’s nods towards the world of ballet are underplayed by Svetlanov, perhaps underlining the conductor’s prevalent seriousness of intent. Certainly this intensity pays dividends in the finale (Tempo di Polacca), where Tchaikovsky’s contrapuntal workings can run out of steam. They certainly do not here - Svetlanov sets up a great momentum that leads to the blazing brass of the work’s close.

Another gem from BBC Legends.

Colin Clarke

 



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