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James Arts

Ukraine Composers’ Series (Set One)
Ilya POLSKY (b. 1924) Overture [11:06]
Volodimir PODGORNY (b. 1928) Concerto for Domra and Orchestra [12:00] (b. a)
Alexandre MAMANTOV Concert Polonaise [4:12]
Dmitro KLEBANOV (b. 1907) Suite no. 2 for String Orchestra [12:10]; Four Preludes and Fugues for Orchestra [22:50]
Grigory TSITSALUK (b. 1923) Elegy for French Horn and String Orchestra [4:40] (b. b)
Nicholai STETSUN (b. 1942) Youth Overture [3:35]
Anatoly GAYDENKO (b. 1934) Kursky Karagody [11:26]
Vitaly GUBARENKO (b. 1934) Kupalo [6:35]; Chamber Symphony no. 2 [20:40] (b. c); Choreographic scenes from ‘Zaporozhtsy’ [33:10]
Boris Michaev (domra)
Mikkola Ostrovsky (French horn)
Bogodar Kotorovich (violin)
Kharkov Philharmonic Orchestra/Vakhtang Jordania
Rec. Philharmonic Hall, Kharkov, 2004
ANGELOK1 CD-7710/11 [71:09 + 71:28]

A mixed bag of the totally unknown. Immediately this release faces an uphill struggle with the buying public. At a time when shops all but give away classic recordings - I snapped up the Furtwangler Tristan on EMI for under 10 quid the other day - it is a brave company that backs a release like this. Note too, that this is set one of the Ukraine Composers’ Series – I wonder, how many sets do they think the market can stand?

Not surprisingly, I turned first to the accompanying notes in the hope of enlightenment on what I was listening to. No such luck; they totalled three sides, around half of which is devoted to notes on the composers (born, studied, professor at x conservatoire, etc) and near on a page each covering the orchestra and the conductor, of which more later. There is not a single word on the compositions.

So without greater authority to contradict me, in giving you some impression of the music, I would draw tonal parallels with the officially acceptable compositions of Shostakovich or Prokofiev. That said, none of the composers here possesses a comparable imagination or technique. Stetsun’s Youth Overture gives away possible political compliance readily, others perhaps less so. Which is to say, I suppose, that they are worthy but dull compositions for the most part. Not once are the boundaries of tonality disturbed, though there is lively rhythmic interest and concern with building dense sound textures. Even for someone like myself with an interest in Eastern European music, the pervasive social realist mood begins to pall well before the end of the first CD.

The performances are robust and earnest. The playing is not of the front rank: brass and strings are hard-edged, though of decent tone; woodwinds lacking a little in character, as is typical of Eastern European ensembles. Quite what level of interpretational gifts Jordania possesses is hard to tell here, though he mercifully keeps things moving and maintains ensemble. Michaev’s domra sounds like a cross between mandolin, guitar and cimbalom; somewhat curious.

It would have been interesting to contrast some works by younger composers; providing their styles and idioms have advanced beyond the ideologically sanctioned. To see if this is the case, we might have to wait for future releases. Whatever the content though, the recording company seriously needs to review how it supports such releases.

Evan Dickerson

Gerard Hoffnung CDs

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