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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
see also reviews by Rob Barnett of symphonies,
concertos and chamber
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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