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CD: MDT AmazonUK AmazonUS

Russian Composers around 1900
Overture to the opera Taras Bulba [4:46]
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Le Poème de l’Extase op.54 [20:47]; Rêverie op.24 [5:40]
Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
Valse de Concert No.1 in D major op.47 (1893) [9:07]
Nikolai MIASKOVSKY (1881-1950)
Symphony No.21 op.51 in F sharp minor [17:20]
Beethoven Orchestra Bonn/Stefan Blunier
rec. Bonn, Germany, 10-11 November 2011

Experience Classicsonline

This CD is entitled Russian Composers around 1900, a strange title when two of the four were Ukrainian which is similar to describing Scottish composers as English - try getting away with that! Had MDG wanted to stick to Russian-born composers there are plenty to choose from who were working around 1900 but this disc may be the first of a series.
Lysenko is a new name to me but I read that he was considered as ‘the father of Ukrainian music’ through his rediscovery and use of folk melodies in his music. It is a shame therefore that this disc allots him less than five minutes to show his use of folk music for which he is so renowned though the Overture to the opera Taras Bulba certainly demonstrates it. There is a Russian tradition, however, that is easy to recognise and one can hear shades of Ippolitov-Ivanov, Kalinnikov and others from that generation. The work comes to an end with stirring sounds so reminiscent of works that made the Red Army Choir famous that one almost expects them to make an appearance at any moment.
Scriabin, by contrast, was his own man if ever there was one, a complete one-off, who saw himself in a particular light of his own cast. His planned but never executed dream of a total art work entitled Mysterium performed by 2000 of his ‘disciples’ at the foot of the Himalayas lasting seven biblical days fusing together music, dance, architecture and theatre is entirely in keeping with this most individual of composers. A composer who cannot be pigeonholed, whose Poem of Ecstasy, which was meant to be a part of the project, is a symphonic expression of that thinking and an almost overwhelmingly rich and heady mix of colours in sound that is almost a kind of musical marijuana. Scriabin’s short piece entitled Rêverie is in a similar vein and as dreamlike as its title suggests that again shows how well he wrote for orchestra using every section to the full.
Glazunov, who was born only seven years before Scriabin and who outlived him by over twenty, was a much more “traditional” composer whose music had more in common with his friend and colleague Tchaikovsky than it did the newer and more experimental composers who were to come later and his Valse de Concert No.1 is a charming concert piece which was enthusiastically received by his mentor Rimsky-Korsakov.
The final work on the disc is the twenty-first of Miaskovsky’s 27 symphonies. It dates from 1940. Miaskovsky has been called ‘the father of the Soviet symphony’ and indeed Scriabin biographer Igor Belsa claimed this symphony could “only have been composed by a composer living in the Soviet era”. I don’t know what he meant by that apart from it being a compliment to Soviet musical education and what he perceived as the ‘Soviet reality’ whilst I would say that the same could certainly be said for Shostakovich’s 10th symphony though clearly for entirely different reasons. Miaskovsky’s symphony is lush, full of melody and lyrical expression and shows his determination in using folk music to keep alive the Russian tradition as pointed out in the notes. However, lauded as he was by the Soviet musical establishment of which he was a part, as a professor at the Moscow Conservatory, a teacher of Khachaturian and Kabalevsky and a member of the Soviet Composers’ Union, he was still vilified as “foreign to the people and formalistic” in 1948, that awful year for musical life in the USSR.
I hadn’t come across the Beethoven Orchester Bonn before or their Swiss Musical Director Stefan Blunier but they are an obvious pearl in Bonn’s crown and are helping raise the former West German capital’s profile to the status befitting of Beethoven’s birthplace.
This was an enjoyable disc and if it is the first of a series then subsequent releases will be of interest.
Steve Arloff 

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