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Nikolai MIASKOVSKY (1881-1950)
Symphony No. 22 Symphony-Ballad op. 54 (1941) [38:46]
Symphony No. 23 op. 56 (1941) [30:22]
St Petersburg State Academic SO/Alexander Titov
rec. St Catherine's Lutheran Church, St Petersburg, 24, 26 June 2008. DDD


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Nikolai MIASKOVSKY (1881-1950)
Symphony No. 24 op. 63 (1943) [41:06]
Symphony No. 25 op. 63 (1945-46) [34:36]
St Petersburg State Academic SO/Alexander Titov
rec. St Catherine's Lutheran Church, St Petersburg, 27-28 June 2008. DDD
Experience Classicsonline

These two separately available discs are volumes 1 and 3 of Northern Flowers' new ‘Wartime Music’ series. Volume 2 presents the Fifth Symphony of Vladimir Scherbachov (1889-1952). The series - which is supported by the City Government of St Petersburg - is intended to restore historic justice to figures who were active during the Great Patriotic War (1941-45).
Miaskovsky's Symphonies 22 and 23 make a strong contrast with 24 and 25. The latter are epic-heroic even if Titov does grant the some emotional distance. Between 22 and 23 Titov is more dramatic and touching in the big single movement and single track 22. He makes intelligent and emotive use of the slow and surging master-theme that carries Symphony 22 high. That theme and treatment bridge the years since Miaskovsky's great Fifth Symphony; yet also looks forward to Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet. Titov uncovers a graceful float and flow to the motion of the music and this can be heard in the echoing dialogue around the grand melody at 12:23 onward. The work's ruminative aspect is cast aside in the resolution at 29:20. It makes for a crashing call-to-arms without a simplistic poster-art effect. Titov is inspiriting and makes intelligently marshalled use of the new shuddering determination he has found. Even so he is more of a poetic bard than a priest of the intrepid. That does not stop him building a heavy-weight energetic grandeur at 32:38. The brass in these pages are commandingly gaunt. For poetry one will turn to Titov in future but for the hot blast of tragedy there is Svetlanov and ... well, Svetlanov. He is magnificent even if Titov is far better recorded and knows the poetic and elegiac better than anyone.
Symphony 22 was premiered in Tbilisi under A. Stasevich on 12 January 1942.
The Symphony 23 is a different kettle altogether. Like 18 and 26 it is more folk-discursive than 22, 24 and 25. Its resonances are in works such as Ippolitov-Ivanov's poetic pictures, Mussorgsky's Dawn on the Moskva River and Borodin's In the Steppes of Central Asia. There is warmth here rather than combat and cordite. Titov gives the work a luminous, spiritual and lovingly shaped performance. It’s the best on record - the music simply shines and glows.
Nikolai Golovanov conducted the premiere in Moscow on 11 June 1942. Other contemporary works of similar folk-relaxed mien include Prokofiev's String Quartet No. 2 which is known as the Kabardino-Balkarian to reflect the warm welcome and folk experience they enjoyed there from their hosts in the Kabardino-Balkarian Soviet Socialist Republic. This is more Polovtsian Dances than scorching war symphony. Try the joyous finale with its whirling activity, impudent flutes and crashing tambourines. It provides healing even today and must have done so then as well.
Miaskovsky's Symphonies 24 and 25 have been coupled before, most recently by Naxos in versions by Yablonsky and before that on Melodiya by the USSR State SO and Svetlanov on SUCD 10-00474. Both Yablonsky and Svetlanov were more incendiary and volatile. Titov takes the long view - evolutionary and epic. His recording of 24 is imposing in its attention to the long architectural stride. This works very well indeed but at times one could have wished for more ferocity as at the start of the finale of 24. Titov is broodingly satisfying overall and is blessed with a realistic unglamorous concert hall balance. His exhausted tenderness is tellingly put across in the Adagio of No. 25 clearly taking a family resemblance from the finale of Tchaikovsky's Pathetique. In the central Moderato the woodwind are more cossetingly sentimental. In the final allegro impetuoso the expected sense of impetuosity, resolve and grit are there amid the nostalgic melancholy. Its intensity is a slow-blooming thing. Even so the climaxing trumpets at 11:08 are things of splendour as is the epic weight of the last pages of this grand statement.
While they do not tell all things, the timings for Titov are interesting. He is broadly speaking slower than either Yablonsky or Svetlanov in symphonies 24 and 25.

Symphony No. 24
Symphony No. 25

Rob Barnett
see also Miaskovsky resource page



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