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Felix BLUMENFELD (1863-1931)
Symphony in C minor op.39 À la mémoire des chers défunts (ca 1905-06) [32:25]
Georgy CATOIRE (1861-1926)
Symphony in C minor op.7 (ca 1889-91 orch 1895-98)* [41:42]
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Martin Yates
rec. Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, 22-23 August 2012
World premiere recording,
DUTTON EPOCH CDLX 7298 [74:16]

Experience Classicsonline



While symphonies by the likes of Knipper, Sabaneyev and Shaporin remain in obscurity and others such as Steinberg’s Second enjoy desultory attention (review) Miaskovsky has finally been given royal treatment with the gloriously documented Alto/Olympia series and Warner’s box of his complete 27 symphonies - oh for an edition of the Miaskovsky works for choir and orchestra.
 
The two composers marching confidently out of the dust here are from an earlier, post-Tchaikovskian generation whose lives bridged Imperial and Soviet times. To be fair the Blumenfeld has been recorded before though not in such resplendent sound as here. That 1995 CD also included music by Shebalin and Banshchikov (Igor Golovchin/Russian State Symphony Orchestra: Russian Disc RD CD 11 052.) However the Catoire symphony is a completely new contender for your curiosity, attention and enthusiasm.
 
We know Blumenfeld because of his piano music which you can sample on Ivory. His life and legacy has been addressed in some detail by Blumenfeld pioneer Bhagwan Thadani. Blumenfeld was an Anton Rubinstein pupil who also studied with Rimsky. He taught both at St Petersburg and at Kiev. His piano pupils included Horowitz. He was conductor at the Mariinsky Theatre (1895-1911) and his many Russian premières there included Tristan und Isolde. A Diaghilev acolyte, he conducted for him in Paris.
 
This Blumenfeld Symphony is in four movements and takes us through noticeably a Tchaikovskian Manfred-like gloom shot through with Elgarian nobilmente. The Larghetto is touchingly and even yearningly elegiac. The Allegro con fuoco comes third with yet more Tchaikovskian DNA in baggage somewhere between Hamlet and the grander balletic apotheoses. The Largo epilogue has about it something of the glistening starlight of the equivalent moments in Elgar’s Second Symphony. This movement rises to an extended, slowly-unfolding climax at 3:00. The music also reminded me of an overtly Tchaikovskian symphony: the Danish composer, Louis Glass’s Fifth. Both the Glass and the Blumenfeld are well worth hearing.
 
There has been much more Catoire on disc. His name might be distantly familiar to you, probably because his music was championed by Oistrakh and has appeared in various places including on Brilliant Classics, Hyperion and Aliud. In 2008 I was completely captivated by his two violin sonatas on Avie and that disc was one of my Recordings of the Year. Those two sonatas will appeal to all who enjoy the Medtner violin sonatas. Catoire knew Tchaikovsky and may be counted a disciple of the master. He also had that adept miniaturist, Liadov as a teacher at the Moscow Conservatoire, where Catoire was later to be a professor to many of the next generation, including Kabalevsky.
 
The Catoire Symphony is fragrantly Russian; more in the line of Balakirev, Borodin and then Glazunov. The big Allegro moderato first movement alternates Slavonic gloom with engagingly lilting woodwind ideas, as at 2:33. The Allegretto is delightfully chipper and is followed by a pensive Andante non tanto which touches hands with Blumenfeld’s completely understandable infatuation with Tchaikovsky’s Manfred. There’s even a French horn solo that is reminiscent of a similar episode in Tchaikovsky’s Fifth - if not quite as extended. Catoire’s Glazunov credentials and sympathies are on his sleeve at the start of the cheery and sometimes bubbly Allegro moderato ma con spirito finale. Soon he has us thinking of Rimsky’s Antar - not a bad model. The final pages are a shade dutiful but we are sure to like where the music is going and how it gets there.
 
The Tchaikovskian heat and Russian nationalist delight of these two symphonies serve as a reminder of another pair of similarly neglected and utterly enjoyable Russian symphonies: those by Sergei Bortkiewicz on Hyperion.
 
This Dutton Epoch International series is well worth collecting. It has opened unsuspected and delightful orchestral doors: Catoire/Sherwood (CDLX7287), Widor (CDLX7275), Godard (CDLX7274 and 7291), Chadwick (CDLX7293) and Converse (CDLX7278).
 
These two works serve to prove that the different shadows cast by Tchaikovsky and Glazunov sometimes and enigmatically imparted light rather than suffocating shade.
 
Rob Barnett 

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