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Ukraine Composers' series - Set One
Ilya POLSKY (b. 1924)

Overture [11:06]
Volodomir PODGORNY (b. 1928)

Domra Concerto [12:00]
Alexandre MAMONTOV 

Concert Polonaise [4:10]
Dmitro KLEBANOV (b. 1907)

Suite No. 2 for string orchestra [12:10]
Four Prelude and Fugues for orchestra [22:50]
Grigory TSITSALUK (b. 1923)

Elegie for French horn and string orchestra [4:40]
Nicholai STETSUN (b. 1942)

Youth Overture [3:35]
Anatoly GAYDENKO (b. 1934)

Kursk Karagody [11:26]
Vitaly GUBARENKO (b. 1934)

Kupalo [6:35]
Chamber Symphony No. 2 for violin and orchestra [20:40]
Choreographic Scenes from Zaporozhtsy [33:10]
Boris Michaev (domra); Mikkola Ostrovsky (horn); Bogodar Kotorovich (violin)
Kharkov PO/Vakhtang Jordania
rec. no details given but presumably 2004?
ANGELOK1 CD-7710-11 [71:09 + 71:26]

 

Jordania's growing cohort of discs for Angelok1 has met with a pretty mixed reception. He has concentrated on the late-romantic mainstream, an area where the competition is murderous. Much more valuably he here opens casements on Ukrainian composers of the 20th century. This sphere was explored by the late-lamented Olympia label. Now Angelok1 tantalise us by calling this 'Set One'; implying there will be at least a second.

This is a stimulating collection recorded by a Ukrainian orchestra not of the top flight nor is it a luxury item. That said, the performances burn with enthusiasm and commitment.

A Second World War veteran, Polsky was born in the Cherkassy region and the wild clarinet caprice at 5.56 reflects this. He was a pupil of Klebanov at the Kharkov Conservatory. The blandly titled ‘Overture’ is gleeful, replete with high spirits, traditional in style echoing Korngold at one point, Kabalevsky at another, Khachaturyan at the next - a jeu d'esprit. It is rather like one of Rostislav Boiko's folk rhapsodies or perhaps more familiarly one of Enescu's nationalistic display pieces.

The folk voices heard in the Polsky carry over into the joyous Domra Concerto by Podgorny. The domra (a mandolin-like instrument) is as much the instrument of the Ukraine as the harp is the instrument of Wales or the fiddle of the Appalachian highlands. Podgorny graduated in Kharkov in 1946 and lectures at Kharkov's Institute of Arts. His concerto is lively, melodic, full of vigour, not in the least academic. Not so much a guitar in Aranjuez but a balalaika in Kharkov. It certainly radiates soulful Slav melancholy alongside Bach-like figuration. The orchestra is used fastidiously.

We are not told anything about Mamontov. His Concert Polonaise has that swooning East European atmosphere - sounding, to these untutored ears, rather Hungarian. This is mixed with a touch of bombast and grandeur.

Klebanov is the elder statesman in this company. He was a pupil of Bogatirev (who completed ‘Tchaikovsky's Seventh Symphony’). He has held several prestigious posts within the one-time USSR musical establishment and contributed to the Ukrainian national anthem. His five movement Suite No. 2 is a gaunt piece with the acerbic bite and angularity of Rawsthorne's and Schuman's writing for strings. The pell-mell devilish Presto with prominent role for solo violin is specially memorable. His Four Preludes and Fugues for orchestra are more ingratiating and show an endearingly relaxed approach. The full orchestra is used inventively within traditional folk patterns heard in the works of Balakirev filtered through a Prokofiev-like sensibility. The first is rather like Copland's Tender Land while the second breaks the spell with its circus-raucous uproar. The third feels ramshackle but has some powerfully atmospheric moments as at 3:10. The fourth occasionally recalls the suite and makes space for a Stravinskian orchestral piano.

Tsitsaluk is a graduate of the Lvov Conservatory. His sentimental Elegie has its mood underlined by Ostrovsky's classically Russian watery vibrato. Think in terms of early Richard Rodney Bennett film music.

Stetsun was born in the Donetsk region. He has a special interest in folk instruments and has conducted folk ensembles as well as conventional orchestras. His Youth Overture is a diverting piece without being at all memorable - it is from the brash and bash tradition of the concert overtures of Kabalevsky and Shostakovich.

Only two composers are represented on the second disc.

Gaydenko was born in Khoroshevo. His Kursk Karagody is another folksy offering complete with accordion ‘flight’. Bracket it with Polsky's overture but once again with Hungarian festive echoes (Kodaly's Peacock and Galanta) and recalling a certain famous theme used in Tchaikobvsky's Fourth Symphony and Balakirev's Russian overture. It is an engagingly varied piece conjuring warm evenings through an inebriating golden haze. Once again the accordion appears towards the end.

Gubarenko gets the lion's share of the second disc with just over an hour's playing time dedicated to three of his works. His Kupalo is in the same mould as the Polsky and Gaydenko with more of an anarchistic Villa-Lobos volatility. The two movement Chamber Symphony No. 2 is a miniature concerto for violin and orchestra. This is explosive, febrile, motoric, impassioned. The admirably firm and full playing of Bogodar Kotorovich meets the concerto on its own terms. It's a quirky decision to call it a Chamber Symphony. It looks, feels and sounds like a violin concerto ... close to Bartok's Second Concerto. The second movement has this contented crepuscular feeling - some of the sweetest music in the set which becomes increasingly sinister and imperious. It then fades into a whispering world of Bartókian insect sounds and warm resignation.

The four Choreographic Scenes from the Zaporozhtsy are given the titles: Opening Scenes; The Furies; Mysteries and Illuminations and Triumphs and Finale. After the mercurial Opening Scenes come the ominous Furies music which I associate with Prokofiev 's Teutonic nights in Nevsky here delivered with a remorseless crunch. In the Finale glare and gaudy colours are patent as well as a dollop of wild pagan brass. This is melodramatic stuff with some memorable music along the way.

The documentation lacks dates for each of the works recorded. We are given close the bare minimum of information. Some details about the composers' other works would have been a favour to them and to us. I hope this will be put right in later sets. Similarly there was no sign of dates or locations for the recording sessions. I am guessing that they are recentish Ukrainian Radio studio recordings

There are no impressive revelatory experiences here but fans of conservatively-inclined nationalistic music need look no further. It's all pretty unassuming stuff except the much more serious and successful chamber symphony by Gubarenko. In fact, of all the composers here, he stands tall for his imagination and restless language. He is no revolutionary but that does not stop his music being well worth encountering. Klebanov also stands out for his flirtation with a more modernistic style. Even so, his approach in one of the two works (the suite) will represent no western listener's Ultima Thule. If you are looking amongst Ukrainian composers for a highly individual voice and a challenge then try Valentin Silvestrov. His Fifth Symphony is not to be missed.

Let's have more from the Ukraine, please. We could do with some major symphonies and concertos next time ...

Rob Barnett



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