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Boris TISCHENKO (b. 1939)
Symphony No. 1 op. 20 (1961) [41:53]
The Blockade Chronicle Symphony op. 92 (1984) [36:18]
Leningrad PO/Edward Serov (1); Andrey Chistiakov (6)
rec. live, Great Hall, Leningrad Philharmonic, 4 Apr 1970 (1); 8 Apr 1985 (Blockade). ADD
St Petersburg Musical Archive
Experience Classicsonline

Two symphonies separated by 23 years and both written during Russia's Soviet era.

Tischenko, a pupil of Ustvolskaya - hear her symphonies on Megadisc - is very much a Leningrad/St Petersburg person and still teaches in the city's conservatory. He studied composition there with Salmanov and then after graduation with Shostakovich. Tischenko dedicated his own symphonies 3 and 5 to Shostakovich. 

The symphony as a form is critical to Tischenko's ouput. The notes tell us that there are seven numbered symphonies plus the French Symphony (after Anatole France), The Blockade Chronicle Symphony and 'the majestic cycle of Dante Symphonies.'. His second violin concerto is termed a 'violin symphony'. 

The First Symphony is in five movements - as is his sixth - and dates from his student years. The work begins in an enchanted evocation of northern nights. It gradually aggregates tension to the point of unbearable strain. In doing so it recalls the music for the Teuton Knights in Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky. The music then relaxes back into a sort of tense serenity underpinned by gong strokes. There is an almost Vaughan Williams- or Copland- like sense of ecstasy at the end of the movement. After that Moderato comes a similarly lengthy Andante. This develops the aurora of ecstasy again with a strained intensity bearing some spiritual relationship to Eduard Tubin's Sixth Symphony. It is macabre and tragic all at once. The braying trumpets at 7:40 leave us in no doubt that this music is steeped in acidic grief. A softened sentimental element comes with a soprano vocalise at 8:24. The macabre returns for the feral blast of the short Presto with its vituperative drum-kit cannonade. The succeeding Allegretto offers some slight relaxation - but not much. The finale brings together a sense of awful apocalypse and trenchant triumph. This is expressed with an awesome whirlwind of climactic emphasis.

The recording is from the 1970s and suffers some mild blasting distortion at the very loudest climaxes. 

The occasional coughs  and splutters from the audience do nothing to detract from the fine effect of this Symphony.

The Blockade Chronicle Symphony shows the composer at full maturity with a massively inventive palette of sounds. This time the armoury includes some of the chittering and ululation expected from  scores by Varčse, Penderecki and Ligeti. The music tracks through devastation as it is happening: falling buildings, wailing salvos of assault-rockets, the sounds of haunted desolation. Redemptive elements include hints of the sort of orison-hymnal drawn from Panufnik and an exhausted benediction. Strangely downward-sliding shrieks and soloistic instrumental voices reach in despair out of the orchestral skein. The music rises to further protest and then sinks again at 22.00. A waltz ostinato emerges expressively at 24:00 rather as it does in the final movement of Tischenko 6. The brass call out in extraordinarily triumphant music at 27:50. The scorch and inbuilt harshness of the brass writing sounds a little like Janáček. Tischenko sustains the triumph with extraordinary tenacity across page after page but then allows this to end and in saunters that waltz again. As Denisov writes, that waltz embodies the past 'living in our memory and never surrendering to oblivion'.

Once again this is a concert performance and while distortion is never an issue there is coughing and shuffling to put up with. Personally I have no problem with such noises in the face of such red-blooded music-making. 

As he does with the Northern Flowers recording of Tischenko 5 Andrey Denisov provides excellent notes. There he reveals a fine accessibly communicative gift without resorting to musicological obfuscation.

Rob Barnett




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