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Yevgeny SVETLANOV (1928-2002)
Compositions for a Symphonic Orchestra
CD 1

Symphony No.1 in B minor Op.13 (1956) [48:31]
Poem for violin and orchestra (in memory of David Oistrakh) (1975) [18:21] 1
CD 2

The Red Guelder-Rose (Kalina Krasnaya; Le sorbier rouge) – symphonic poem (in memory of Vasily Shukshin) (1975) [19:30] 2
Piano Concerto in C minor (1976) [21:11] 3
Preludes – symphonic reflections (1966) [22:44]
CD 3

Daybreak in the Field – symphonic picture (1949) [5:53]
Three Russian Songs (1950) [9:20] 4
Pictures of Spain – Rhapsody for large orchestra (1954) [16:55]
Rhapsody No.2 (1978) [15:54]
Russian Variations for harp and orchestra (1975) [13:31] 5
CD 4

Daugava – symphonic poem (1952) [15:31]
Siberian Fantasy for large symphony orchestra (1954) [18:19]
Igor Oistrakh (violin) 1

Un-credited singer 2
Raisa Bobrineva (soprano) 4
Nadezhda Tolstaya (harp) 5
Russian State Symphony Orchestra (formerly USSR State [Academic] Symphony Orchestra)/Yevgeny Svetlanov
Yevgeny Svetlanov (piano)/USSR Radio Symphony Orchestra/Maxim Shostakovich 3
rec. 1954-1978, Russia. ADD

SVCO 001/4-004/4 [4 CDs: 66:59 + 63:40 + 61:51 + 33:54] 


Experience Classicsonline

This collection will, for many, shed a new light on Yevgeny Svetlanov – in the interests of more accurately representing the original Russian spelling I have reinstated the ‘Y’ in the English transliteration of his name which curiously disappeared from some sources many years ago. Svetlanov was well known for his dynamic and exciting conducting – he could even make quite dull works teem with life – and some will have heard him as a pianist in his own Piano Concerto and as accompanist in chamber music

These recordings, some of which have been available sporadically in the past on a variety of labels including Russian Disc, come from the private archive of Svetlanov’s widow, Nina Svetlanova and date from between 1954 to 1978. Annoyingly, the booklet is very badly annotated and we are not told which recordings come from which year or even in what year many of the works were written. The works on this expansive four-CD collection date over twenty-nine years – between 1949 and 1978. Svetlanov’s musical language was very conservative indeed. Not knowing many of these works, I was quite shocked at how derivative much of the music was. The first work we are given is possibly the best known: the Symphony No 1 in B-flat minor. Throughout the work one can clearly hear strong echoes of Tchaikovsky, Rakhmaninov and Myaskovsky. In the finale I thought someone had spliced-in a section of Shostakovich’s Twelfth Symphony (2:28) – a work that was, surprisingly, written six years later. Svetlanov’s symphony is a big, sprawling work of some 48 minutes. It hangs together rather well - it just sounds like so many other things. My guess from the recording quality is that this recording dates from the 1970s or early 1980s and, a little scrappy playing apart, the work is given as committed and passionate a performance as one could imagine. 

Written a year after the legendary violinist’s death in 1974, the Poem is dedicated to the memory of David Oistrakh. David’s son Igor plays very touchingly. The orchestral interludes in this piece are far too long and I found my interest waning during what seemed to my ears ‘padding’. This would have made a satisfying ten-minute work but it proved a slightly tiresome eighteen for me. 

The second CD opens with The Red Guelder-Rose from 1975. This is a symphonic poem written in memory of another great Russian artist who died in 1974 – the actor, writer and director Vasily Shukshin (1929-1974), whom Svetlanov regarded very highly. The musical echoes of Myaskovsky, Rakhmaninov and Shostakovich loom large here as well – as does the plainchant Dies irae, so beloved of Rakhmaninov. There is no indication as to the words which are being sung by the off-stage voice at 16:44, nor who the singer is. An online source suggests it might be a certain A. Streltsenko, although this is a masculine Russian name and the singer is most definitely female! 

Maxim Shostakovich conducts and Svetlanov is the soloist in the Piano Concerto. Full of folk song allusions and reminders of Medtner, Rakhmaninov and Tchaikovsky, this work would appeal to lovers of undemanding Romantic piano concertos although, again, I found myself becoming exasperated with its unoriginality and derivativeness. 

The Preludes present some of the more original music on this disc - indeed in this collection – although Rakhmaninov gives way to Skryabin as the most obvious influence in the first Prelude. The remaining movements are often inspired by folk music and make for an entertaining if not profound listening experience. The most substantial of the six Preludes is the  final Vivo, which seems to act as final summing up of the previous five movements. 

The third disc in this set opens with what turned out to be one of my favourite works from this collection, the symphonic picture Daybreak in the Field. It is the earliest of the works in this collection, dating from 1949, presumably when Svetlanov was still a student. At just under six minutes’ duration I found it a little short. In style it reminded me very strongly of the fine but little-known Soviet composer Yuri Shaporin (1887-1966), a composer whose works would have been very familiar to the young Svetlanov at the time of this composition and whose music he later championed. 

Originating from just one year later, the Three Russian Songs are pretty unremarkable, although idiomatically sung by Raisa Bobrineva. Again, no texts are provided in the booklet. Another relatively early work, the First Rhapsody, Pictures of Spain from 1954 is very attractive and a colourful addition to that genre of orchestral repertoire influenced by the Iberian peninsula. The Serenada section of the first part of this Rhapsody (from around 5:33) is beautifully evocative, as if the composer imagined himself basking in the Mediterranean sunshine. I have to say, however, that the Spanish plains seem to give way to the Caucasus mountains at 8:41 as the music becomes strongly reminiscent of Khachaturian. I could also have done without the manically wayward castanets at the end of the Serenada. A howler of a faulty edit (done at CD master tape stage, I suspect) inserts a rogue silence less than a second before the end of the Serenada just before the Jota explodes into life. More Khachaturian breaks through during the course of this music but everything is enjoyable and very energetically played. 

Svetlanov’s Second Rhapsody was his last work, written in 1978 and is another of the composer’s memorial works from the 1970s. It is dedicated to the Bulgarian composer Pancho Vladigerov who died in September 1978. Vladigerov was Jewish and the influence of Jewish and klezmer music is to be heard through the Rhapsody, which did not endear it to the Soviet authorities. It includes virtuosic cadenzas for many instruments as Svetlanov wanted to show of the exceptional skills of the solo players within the USSR Academic State Symphony Orchestra as it was called at this time. A true klezmer party breaks out at 11:40 during the whole orchestra is given its head by Svetlanov, to blazing and triumphant effect. 

The Russian Variations were written for Svetlanov’s solo harpist in the orchestra, Nadezhda Tolstaya, who is the soloist in this recording. The Variations use all the usual harp techniques to good effect without every straying into any territory too original or adventurous. 

Obviously no original tape master could be located for the first item on the fourth and last disc Daugava as this transfer has obviously been taken from a rather bumpy LP. The Daugava River originates in Russia, continues through Belarus – the city of Vitebsk stands on it – and then enters Latvia where it drains into the Gulf of Rīga and the Baltic Sea. This symphonic poem is based on Latvian folk tunes in a very liberal way and is full of Tchaikovskian colour and flair – and a fair amount of noisy brass writing. 

The final work is the Siberian Fantasy, an early work that Svetlanov wrote together with the composer Igor Yakushenko (b. 1932). This is also obviously taken from a vinyl LP. Like Daugava, the Siberian Fantasy will satisfy those yearning after that ‘old’ Russian orchestral sound, the likes of which we will never hear again.

For those familiar with Svetlanov and his orchestra of the 1960s and 1970s, this disc will be a welcome wallow in the ripe, glorious and unique sound of the USSR Symphony Orchestra. Recordings have generally cleaned up very well and one is only occasionally aware of any distortion or congestion of sound. Performances are never less than idiomatic and enthusiastic and often they are downright brilliant. The music will appeal to those who enjoy the post-Romantic styles of composers such as Rakhmaninov and Myaskovsky and who don’t seek much hair-raising originality. Svetlanov was never less than craftsmanlike and was occasionally inspired in his colourful and imaginative orchestral writing. However, there is almost nothing here than won’t remind you of a myriad other pieces of music. 

The booklet is disappointing. It relies far more on anecdote than useful facts. Nina Nikolaeva-Svetlanova didn’t even seem to know when most of these pieces were written, requiring a good deal of internet research on my part to fill-in the gaps. Not even the best sterling efforts of our very own Rob Barnett could save these notes from a good deal of triviality.

Derek Warby

see also Review by Jonathan Woolf



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