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Alla PAVLOVA (b. 1952)
Symphony No. 2 For the New Millennium (1998 rev 2002) [37:34]
Symphony No. 4 (2002) [19:59] *
*Yaroslav Krasnikiov (violin); Georgy Khachikyan (organ)
Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Radio/Vladimir Fedoseyev
rec. Studio 5, Russian State TV and Radio Company KULTURA, Moscow, 17-20 September 2003. DDD
NAXOS 8.557566 [57:33]

 

Alla Pavlova trained as a composer and musicologist in what was the Soviet Union and moved to New York in 1990.  She seems to have soaked up some Americana since then, but her music retains a heavy Russian accent.

This CD, the second release in Naxos’ ongoing series dedicated to Pavlova’s output, comprises the composer’s second and fourth symphonies.

The Second Symphony appears here in its 2002 revision.  Dedicated to her husband, it was Pavlova’s first composition for full orchestra.  She was dissatisfied with the work in its initial form and, after its first recording (on Albany), made changes to some of the thematic material and the orchestration.  Having not heard the original version, I cannot make any comparisons, but I can say that there is nothing wrong with the revised orchestration.  Pavlova has a good command of the orchestra and its colours. Her writing for strings, horn and upper woodwinds is particularly lovely.

The symphony is entitled For the New Millennium and it is said by the composer to explore the idea “of man and his relation to the Universe on the threshold of the new millennium”.

The first movement is intended as a depiction of “man’s subjective perception of the Universe” and features some lovely writing for solo violin.  The opening is gentle and melancholy, with sighing phrases in the upper voices of the orchestra above steady chords from the lower strings.  As the movement increases in volume and pace towards the first climax (around four minutes in), the repeated motif in the bass and the swooping upper woodwinds hint at John Adams.

The brief second movement is described by the composer as a “Devil’s Dance” and sounds like the march of cartoonish villains.  The third movement represents “Light and Love”.  Had the liner not told me this, I would have thought it depicted someone sailing away dolefully from home and family.  You can hear the boat rocking.  Long-breathed signing phrases from the lower stings support a theme played by massed violins that could have been written by Khachaturian in one of his romantic moods.  Pavlova says in the liner notes that she was revising the last few pages of this movement on 11 September 2002, and the significance of the date caused her to give this movement a more “tragic” ending than it had in its previous incarnation.  I am not sure that the close of the third movement sounds “tragic” - perhaps “wistful” would be more apt.  Wistful or tragic, the movement ends quietly and the finale opens just as quietly.  Again phrases are long-breathed and another gorgeous melody takes flight a few minutes in.  Unfortunately, the movement is a little too long for its material and the last few minutes seem to meander towards the symphony’s (again) quiet conclusion.

I must confess that the symphony’s title and the descriptions of each movement aim for a profundity that my ears cannot make out in the music.  I was not deeply moved or challenged by this piece, but it is unfailingly lovely and easy to listen to.

The Fourth Symphony is recognisably from the pen of the same composer.  Written as a single extended movement, it is essentially a tone poem, with colourful involvement from the organ and solo violin.  Long organ chords and chiming bells give this piece a sense of the mystical, which ties in with its inspiration, the painting “The Path to Shambala” by Nicholas Roerich (which appears on the album cover).  There is more than a whiff of Rachmaninov’s tone poems about this piece.  Again, the composer’s stated aims in this symphony are lofty and spiritual, but to me it just sounds nice.

The performances are creditable.  Fedoseyev seems to be in tune with the composer’s intentions and the orchestra plays with romantic sweep, notwithstanding occasional untidiness.  The recording has enough bloom for the long string phrases and although the timpani sound murky, there is nothing seriously wrong with the sonics.

Both of these symphonies contain some lovely music and lush orchestration.  The blurb on the back cover of this disc says that Pavlova has written for film, and there is certainly something “filmic” in her style.  While they are not masterpieces, these symphonies are enjoyable and, at the Naxos price, can be recommended to lovers of the neo-romantic.

Tim Perry

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