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Tikhon KHRENNIKOV (b.1913)
Three Symphonies

Symphony No.1 in B flat minor (1933-35) [22:03]
Symphony No.2 in C minor (1940-44) [34:48]
Symphony No.3 in A major (1973) [17:27]
USSR State Symphony Orchestra/Evgeny Svetlanov

Tikhon KHRENNIKOV (b.1913)
The Three Piano Concertos

Piano Concerto No.1 (1932-33) [21:38]
Piano Concerto No.2 (1971) [16:12]
Piano Concerto No.3 (1983) [20:04] *
Tikhon Khrennikov (piano)
USSR State Symphony Orchestra/Evgeny Svetlanov
Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra/Vladimir Fedoseyev*
Tikhon KHRENNIKOV (b.1913)
The Chamber Music

String Quartet No.1 Op.33 (1988) [8:18]
Cello Sonata Op.34 (1989) [13:23]
Three Pieces for violin and piano Op26 (1983) [8:16]
Concerto No.4 for piano and string orchestra and percussion Op.37 (1991) [10:16]
Three Poems on Nekrasov’s Rhymes (1971) [5:59]
Three Poems on Nekrasov’s Rhymes Op.36 (1990) [4:58]
Songs from Theatrical Performances;
Ballade from Quixote [2:24]
Bring flowers for the sweethearts from Dorothea [3:02]
A Gypsy Song from Dorothea [5:33]
Like a Nightingale of Rose from Much Ado About Nothing [2:10]
The Night is Slightly Swaying Leaves from Much Ado About Nothing [4:10]
A Drunk Song from Much Ado About Nothing [6:50]
Prokofiev String Quartet - String Quartet No.1
Kirill Rodin (cello) and Anatoly Sheludiakov (piano) - Cello Sonata
Igor Oistrakh (violin) and Natalia Zertsalova (piano) - Three Pieces for violin and piano
Anatoly Sheludiakov (piano)/Arko Chamber Orchestra/Levon Ambartsumian - Concerto No.4 for piano and string orchestra
Tchaikovsky Chamber Choir of the Moscow Conservatoire/Boris Tevlin - Three Poems on Nekrasov’s Rhymes
Eugenia Segeniuk (contralto) and Alla Osipenko (piano) – Ballade, Bring flowers and A Gypsy Song
Leonid Boldin (bass) and Ekaterina Ganelina (piano) - Like a Nightingale, The Night and A Drunk Song
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Three slices of Khrennikov from Kapelmeister bring us symphonic, concerto, chamber and vocal recordings that span his compositional life. The First Symphony is an early work completed when he was twenty-two. The opening movement has a vital motor and a trivial heart. Feints toward the fugal mesh with Prokofiev-like dynamism and a brash surety ensures that orchestral commas are assured and not lumpy. It’s the central movement that impresses most. Here a Miaskovskian tinge aerates the music and a degree of introspection warms it with long Rachmaninovian paragraphs; I find the influence of Rachmaninov on the slow movements pronounced in the early symphonic writing. The finale is folksy and leads to a rather undeserved grandiloquence and slapstick conclusion. I think it would work better as a scherzo with a rewritten fourth movement finale. Despite the rather loquacious tiresomeness of much of this early work the gravity of the slow movement sounds promise.
Symphony No.2 is actually cast in four movements. Opening with such violent defiance identifies it squarely as a war symphony. Big fat Russian trumpets blare, contrasted with more reflective writing rather reminiscent of his teacher Shebalin. The evocative solo violin and Tchaikovskian patina are effective and the deft symmetry of the writing is formally controlled. The slow movement’s lilting melody and ensuing march climaxes are powerfully scored and aurally titillating, comments that apply to the scherzo’s tangy militaristic drama. The finale looks forward to victory with pastoral reflections, folkloric hues and ends in a goose-stepping blaze of glory.
Khrennikov waited until 1973 to write his Third Symphony. This reverts to a three-movement scheme. Prominent is his trademark percussive drama and a very Shostakovich-like rhythmic drive. The insistent and incessant motor rhythms lead to a high degree of tension, well sustained, and a sardonic circus of sonorities. The tick-tocking of time seems to inform the central movement where nostalgia is displaced by insistence and inevitability. Its resolution in the finale sounds unsatisfying. The rather exhausting fissures of it are rooted very much in the procedures of the 1950s; that’s not necessarily a criticism but the symphony carries no real weight of expressive journey.
Khrennikov is a formidable pianist as he shows in his performances of the three concertos with the galvanising support of Svetlanov in the first two and Fedoseyev in the third. The First Concerto is a youthful work teeming with Prokofiev. It also contains a deliberate reminiscence, in the Andante, of the slow movement of the concerto for violin and oboe by Bach; just a hint here of Gerald Finzi’s experiments with baroque piano writing. The scherzo flirts with fugal development but doesn’t pursue it. There’s a sliver of an adagio introduction to the finale – as brief as some of Telemann’s, which seems to reinforce the baroque homage – before a helter skelter motoric finale, lashings of Rachmaninov and a very brash and cocky climax.
No.2 is a much later work, dating from 1971. It seems to be related to the earlier work however in its evocative and long solo piano writing. It’s a shame there’s a bad piece of tracking where the first movement ends abruptly only to restart on the next track – and then ends a few moments later. Very confusing. Still the writing is for the most part high octane and virtuosic. I found the finale rather perplexing; parts of it sound like Fiddler on the Roof, like a rinky-dink Soviet-style march, there are solo piano musings and a nice long string cantilena. It’s unsettled and hobbled, perhaps deliberately so.
The Third Concerto sees lyricism alternate with a rather vulgar march theme. The first movement is overstretched for the material. The central movement sounds like a conflation of Ravel and Shostakovich and some big fat brass drama. The driving rhetoric of the finale encloses a mocking march tune. Better still is a grave interlocutory passage before the big eruption that sounds the finale’s blazing moments. It does sound forced but is met with alert applause. Throughout, the composer-soloist plays with remarkable dynamism and flair. The orchestras pitch in with unvarnished zeal as well.
The third disc is devoted to what it calls chamber works but actually includes song as well as the Piano Concerto No.4 with string orchestra. The Quartet sounds inspired by Miaskovsky. A very concise 1988 work, I didn’t find its “Sullen Dance” as sullen as all that. It’s a work out to please rather than to make one think. The Cello sonata is a bigger work and again in three movements. There are strong hints of Prokofiev in the piano writing which often leads the ensemble. The sonata really takes wing, as so often with this composer, when he turns off the grandstanding and unfurls a long cantabile line. The Shostakovich gestures in the finale are apparent though it’s a pity the piano is so over recorded. Rodin is a very fine player and shouldn’t be swamped like this.
The Three Pieces for violin and piano are played by none other than Igor Oistrakh, with Natalia Zertsalova. The first is Prokofiev inspired, the second Szymanowski. The haze is most attractive and eminently well written for both instruments. There’s a blip at 0.42 in the Intermezzo [track 8] so watch out.  The Piano Concerto is toccata-ish, not quite neo-classical but conforming to the composer’s liking for baroque procedural moments in his piano concertos. The trademark percussive taps are here and so is a certain, rather unlikely and unusual Iberian haze in Part II – as is Mussorgskian tintinnabulation at the climax.
The songs are less impressive. They’re in the main very conventional; some in fact wouldn’t have gone amiss in the late nineteenth century.  Bring flowers could have been written any time then. The singers are pungent if unsubtle. No texts are provided which means we need to respond to their powers – considerable – of histrionic projection. There’s a drunk song from Much Ado About Nothing that’s the quintessence of tedium. Odd that his vocal works are so uninteresting.
The booklet notes need an awful lot of work for English speakers though one can get the gist of things easily enough. Less forgivable is the reprinting of an article by that otherwise tireless Russian executant, author and musicologist Lev Ginsburg. Its disgusting sycophancy has no place here, not least given Khrennikov’s political reputation. As for his music it leaves a very mixed impression. It has flair, energy, colour and moments of reflection. But it relies on gesture, on motoric rhythms, and is strongly influenced by contemporaries to an extent that it can become eclipsed. Themes are attractive but not always memorable. The use of baroque procedure is never of the concerto grosso kind; it’s subtle and full of suggestibility. At his best he can be a most engaging composer; at his worst he runs on autopilot.
Jonathan Woolf

see also reviews by Rob Barnett of symphonies, concertos and chamber music 


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