Myaskovsky is well enough known to enthusiasts as the author
of twenty-seven varied symphonies and two concertos which
have kept his name fitfully in the public eye. Superficially
his style is conservative. It looks backwards towards the
classic Russian composers of the late nineteenth century.
As such he pleased the Soviet headmen; not that he did this
to please them. In fact he too went through a trial of fire
at various stages with charges of formalism levelled at him.
His Tenth Symphony written in 1927 and recently freshly recorded
by Dmitri Liss and the Ural Philharmonic Orchestra on Warner,
was condemned for its gloomy expressionism. In fact Myaskovsky
developed a natural predilection for melancholy, autumnal
colours and tragedy often in masterful juxtaposition. His
symphonies 5, 21, 22, 24, 25 and 27 and the Cello Concerto
beloved of Rostropovich all testify to his gripping way with
downbeat material – triumph through adversity, the heroism
of the tragic.
There was another Myaskovsky as well; probably several more.
In the three op. 32 works grouped here we encounter a project
to explore song and dance idioms. In each work the orchestra
is differently specified. The Serenade in its
outer two movements mixes singing melancholia with vigorous
Russian folksongs of the type used by Borodin and Tchaikovsky.
Indeed the Andante briefly recalls the waltz from
the Pathétique before introducing a touchingly vulnerable
theme related to Russian Orthodox chant which rises to searing
The Sinfonietta for strings is redolent
of the writing of Frank Bridge (Suite and Sir Roger
de Coverley) and Elgar (Introduction and Allegro).
Another central Andante is memorable for its mercurial
mood-shifts and a devilishly virtuosic violin solo. Gratifying
stereo separation brings out the ear-tickling fleet-footed
dialogues of the final Presto complete with a rewarding
dignified melody at 1:03 onwards. The silvery consistency
and gutsy attack of the MNOO is enviable.
Concertino stands well clear of the desiccation of
neo-classicism. Once again it is light on its feet and full
of emotional effect without the grand gestures of the symphonies.
This is highly accomplished music with plenty of inventive
fibre in this case drenched and dense with complex and allusive
material. After a dignified Andante Monotono heavy
with murmuring nostalgia – perhaps for a Russia that has
gone or maybe the nostalgia of lost summers and happiness
forsaken - comes a light-hearted, flickering dance bright
with children’s games.
The roles of the solo instruments
tend to be rather as poetic interlocutors; there is none
of the display-virtuosity of the Andante of the Sinfonietta.
The small-scale suggested by the Op. 32 titles is not always
reflected in what you hear. This is the sort of music that
will insinuate its way into your affections with very little
exertion. While they may well have been a politically necessary
retreat from dense expressionism (to which he would return
in Symphony 13) the music is lit with inspiration and the
ideas are memorable. The three works link in some measure
with the folksy symphonies 23 and 26.
The three Op. 32 works, each in three movements, were also
recorded in 1980 by Vladimir Verbitsky – who turned in a
better than decent Tchaikovsky 5 not so long ago (see review)
- and these were issued on early Olympias (OCD, 105, 168,
177) as fillers for various Melodiya original recordings
of the symphonies. The first two works also appeared on ZYX
Music CLA10012-2 in 1998. Verbitsky is by no means less effective
than Samoilov but he is not as well recorded. The microphones
are placed very close to the orchestra to capture some coarsely
resonant but raspingly vivid music-making. In the Poco
maestoso finale Verbitsky makes something extraordinary
of this music. Not to be dismissed then but Samoilov is the
one to go for. Of course all those Olympias have now been
deleted and only Regis offer all three of these wonderful
pieces together on the same disc.
The Salutatory Overture was written to celebrate
Stalin’s sixtieth birthday at the commission of Moscow Radio.
It is brassy, vigorous and probingly romantic (6:19) but
lacks the sort of grip on the memory that the Op. 32 works
possess. The bright prattle, bells and fanfares is of the
sort we have also heard, with a slightly different accent,
from Rawsthorne, Britten and Ferguson and none the worse
for that. Let’s not delude ourselves or take up too superior
Good notes from James Murray again. There also material from
Per Skans whose lucidly informative commentary with the miscarried
Olympia Miaskovsky symphony cycle made the series’ early
foreclosure doubly disappointing.
Adherents of Russian nationalism need to have this inexpensive
disc. Do not be put off by the diminutive titles. Myaskovsky
is a soulfully entertaining and wildly inventive creator
of music and here is one chapter of evidence.
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Seen & Heard
Editor in Chief