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Russian Composers around 1900
Mykola LYSENKO (1842-1912)
Taras Bulba: overture (1890) [4:46]
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
La Poème de l’Extase, Op.54 (1905-07) [20:47]
Rêverie, Op.24 (1898) [5:40]
Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
Valse de Concert No.1, in D major Op.47 (1893) [9:07]
Nicolai MIASKOVSKY (1881-1950)
Symphony No.21 in F sharp minor, Op.51 (1940) [17:20]
Beethoven Orchestra, Bonn/Stefan Blunier
rec. live 10-11 November 2011, Bonn
MUSIKPRODUKTION DABRINGHAUS UND GRIMM 937 1761-6 [57:44]

There’s often something of a grey area in which resides a possible disc title. The spine and back of this CD announce, with a suitable degree of uncertainty, ‘Russian Composers around 1900’ whilst the booklet cover omits the reference and simply presents the composers and works. This is perhaps as well because whilst four of the works were certainly written in the years between 1890 and 1907, Miaskovsky’s Symphony No.21 was composed in 1940. Let’s just leave it as an approximately shaped peg on which to stick a hat.
 
This is a live recording which is dated to November 10 & 11, 2011. I’m not sure if these represented consecutive public concerts or if the latter date was a patching session. The fact remains that these are live, and presented in SACD.
 
Mykola Lysenko’s overture to his opera Taras Bulba gets things off to a suitably dramatic and largely little-known start. Written in 1890 it’s the work of a formidable Ukrainian nationalist, who went so far, apparently, as to ban Tchaikovsky, an admirer of his music, from staging Taras Bulba in Moscow because there it would have been sung in Russian. The driving and exciting overture owes more than a little to Tchaikovsky himself.
 
Scriabin’s La Poème de l’Extase is taken at a decisive tempo and those who know Golovanov’s classic recording from 1952 will perhaps find it too taut. That said, there isn’t overmuch hallucinatory intensity, nor much sensuality, and the result is apt to be rather plain: the blood doesn’t race. It’s good to have the little Rêverie, an appropriately named morceau of 1898. I’m sure, too, that if you only knew Glazunov’s delightful Valse de Concert No.1 from this recording you would find the music attractive and springy. Yet turn to Anatole Fistoulari old 1950s traversal, newly reissued on Guild Historical, and you enter a different interpretive world. What in Stefan Blunier’s performance is attractive if inert is transformed by Fistoulari into an evocative cantilever full of the richest and most subtle of rubati. Blunier, unfortunately, lacks metrical pliability, as well as tonal breadth from his orchestra. The music thus lacks definition, and impact.
 
I suppose the most significant piece here, at least in terms of importance to the discography is Miaskovsky’s Symphony No.21, his most popular; or at least at one time his most popular. Those were the days when Rakhlin premiered it on 78 and Ormandy gave it its Western premiere on disc, followed over the years by Morton Gould and David Measham and others. There is a considerable degree of latitude in performances of this work on disc, from Ormandy’s blistering 15 minutes to those, like Svetlanov, who take over 18. The timing as such doesn’t so much interest me as the correlation between paragraphs. Alas, we hit the buffers here again because there’s little sense of genuine incremental tension in this reading such as you find in the best performances - Rakhlin’s opening is unsurpassed for excitement. There’s also a surprising lack of string weight and the phrasing is rather one dimensional. If you must have a Miaskovsky SACD this is the only one available.
 
I don’t disparage the programming here or the ambition. They are both laudable. It’s a well balanced affair and I like the look of it, indeed, though presumably there was at least one other big work - a concerto presumably. But it’s rather underwhelming in execution.
 
Jonathan Woolf 

see also review by Steve Arloff

Review index: Miaskovsky symphonies