This disc made little impression when first issued and the undertow
caused by the fall of Conifer delivered the coup de grace.
It certainly deserves better if you have a taste for Russian nationalism.
Mtzyri is a nice piece of Russo-Oriental pictorial-impressionist
exotica. Its elements include a Sheherazade-sinuous song for solo violin and the minaret and the
muezzin are never far away. Think in terms of a more lucidly
orchestrated brother of Balakirev's Tamara and the
tragic-tormented aspects of Tchaikovsky’s Manfred.
It’s all done with real conviction and soprano Barainsky (13:20)
holds an impressive high note with throbbing invincibility.
The Symphony is lively
enough and wends its way between Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov
- nearer to Tchaikovsky. The quiet shuddering footfall in
the third movement recalls the Capriccio Italien.
The booklet notes -
now standard in ArkivMusic licensed discs - are by Toccata's
Martin Anderson and are therefore a rewarding read in their
own right. They are in English, French and German. They paint
in the details of the life and music with a fine brush.
A minor gripe is that
despite there being plenty of space we have only one attractive
segment of the Caucasian Sketches - the composer's
only claim to popularity. There was room for the whole suite.
This is a handsome
offering and something to tantalise until we can hear his
other works. There are six operas including The Last Barricade
(1933-34) which has as its subject the Paris Commune.
We would do well in our safety and superiority not to hold
against him that, as the times dictated, ‘patriotic’ pieces
were required and were delivered: Song of Stalin, Hymn
to Work, Voroshilov March, The Year 1917.
Further afield there is a Catalan Suite and a four
movement work, Karelia - possibly intended as his Second
Symphony. Other folk-influenced material include An
Evening in Georgia, Musical Pictures of Uzbekistan,
On the Steppes of Turkmenistan and Turkish Fragments.
If you would like to
delve beyond this disc try Naxos 8.553405 (Caucasian Sketches
– suites 1 and 2), Marco Polo 8.223629
(Yar-Khmel, Ossian Tableaux, Jubilee March
and Episode from life of Schubert etc) and Marco
Polo 8.220217 (Symphony 1 and Turkish Fragments).
Gary Brain is a sensitive
and confident advocate for this largely unknown music. It is to
his credit that he continues to champion the wilder periphery.
His discography includes the Truscott Symphony (Marco Polo)
and a cycle of orchestral discs presenting music by Polish-Swiss
composer, Czeslaw Marek (Koch