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Boris TISHCHENKO (b. 1939)
Symphony No. 7, Op. 119 (1994).
Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra/Dmitri Yablonsky.
Live recording at the Grand Hall, Moscow Conservatory, February 26 2002
NAXOS 8.557013 [52.42]

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The phantasmagoria that is Tishchenko’s Seventh Symphony has come to recorded fruition in this live performance from Moscow; its first recording. In five movements, simply numbered and not named by the composer, the Seventh covers a myriad of moods, as well as rhythmic and stylistic front lines, and takes its hearer on a vortex ride of ambiguity and disjunction. It’s easier to say what the symphony does than what it’s about, easier to be descriptive of its scheme than to point to definitive influences, though obviously Tishchenko, as a famous Shostakovich pupil, will ever have that name appended to his own.

The jocular introduction, quiet over pizzicato strings, gives way to more immediately pensive material. It’s not long before the burlesque-grotesquerie appears and haunts the symphony like a Pierrot at a Ball. The raspberry blowing brass deepens the cynicism – all this from the innocent seedbed of the opening bars. The second movement gives us circus music, some music hall (a close cousin of Shostakovich’s Jazz Suite No.1) oom-pah and xylophone flippancy of a completely unabashed kind. Thus far we’ve been led from light to foolish indulgence but in the third movement we have a tense, still reprieve with winds taking striking lines and the listener feels temporarily removed from the potentially menacing night-sweat material that surrounds it.

The fourth movement introduces a chorale figure and a weird, sinuous, worrying glissando that leads onto the final movement. The military tom toms that assail us are juxtaposed with marching songs, string swirl and hieratic brass. The big, ungainly and galumphing theme that emerges turns strident and blustery and we end, well, to my ears with a nasty and insidious march that wraps things up with a sneer.

The audience’s applause at the end is quick and genuine and is soon faded out, if you’re not into that sort of thing. Otherwise they are commendably quiet and listen in near silence to the white-hot performance by the Moscow Philharmonic under Dmitri Yablonsky’s compelling direction. This is a symphony that seems to embody some musico-psychological confluence, its apparently random disjunctions seemingly, as we listen, as smooth and logical as a dream. Whatever meaning might lie behind it there is a compelling force to it; unsettling, wearing masks, ultimately military – and catastrophic.

Jonathan Woolf

see also reviews by Colin Clarke and John Phillips

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