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Vissarion SHEBALIN (1902-1963)
Orchestral Music - Volume One
Orchestral Suite No. 1, Op. 18 (1934/36) [31:00]
Orchestral Suite No. 2, Op. 22 (1962) [31:19]
Siberian Symphony Orchestra/Dmitry Vasiliev
rec. 2 April (Suite No. 1), 3 June (Suite No. 2) 2012, Philharmonic Hall, Omsk, Siberia
see full track-list at end of review

This example of the playing of the Siberian Symphony Orchestra is not new but having reviewed their stunning recent release of Weinberg’s Symphony No. 21 on Toccata I felt that the site should have a comment on this excellent issue. It is the first of a series that this orchestra under Dmitry Vasiliev is recording for this label. The accompanying notes state that a second volume of Shebalin’s music will include a recording of the Third Orchestral Suite and some other unrecorded orchestral works.

Vissarion Shebalin together with Shostakovich, Kabalevsky and Khachaturian was one of the first generation of composers who lived and worked under the Soviet regime. In 1948 they were denounced following the so-called ‘Zhdanov Decree’ that heralded an unremitting campaign of condemnation and persecution.

Siberia-born Shebalin attended the Moscow Conservatory where he studied under Myaskovsky. He became a professor at the Moscow Conservatory later the director and his students included Khrennikov, Denisov, Khachaturian, Gubaidulina and Boris Tchaikovsky.

Composing in most genres, Shebalin produced a substantial body of work including five symphonies but his music has fallen into relative obscurity. According to the sleeve-notes the First Orchestral Suite is receiving its first ever recording and the Second achieves its first recording on CD. Although Shebalin was a friend of Shostakovich one detects little of his influence. The writing feels rather more comparable to the sound-worlds of a previous generation: namely Glazunov, Myaskovsky and Gliere whose music Shebalin would have known intimately.

Composed in 1934/36 the Orchestral Suite No. 1, Op. 18 bears a dedication to Lev Atovmian, best known as a member of Shostakovich’s circle. The score has its origins in two plays staged in 1933 at the Meyerhold State Theatre, Moscow: ‘Introduction’ penned by Yury German and ‘The Last Decisive’ by Vsevolod Vishnevsky. Subsequently the Suite was introduced in 1934 in Moscow by the Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra under Viktor Kubatsky. The two orchestral suites make little demand on the listener’s concentration yet are immediately engaging. After the first couple of plays I found the First Orchestra Suite, Op. 18 the more compelling of the two. It has some really engaging and memorable melodies with an abundance of contrasting colours and textures. Of the six named movements, standing out are the opening Funeral March, splendid in its grandeur and, best of all, the impressive third movement Slow Waltz. This feels rather reserved in character bordering on the ethereal but deliciously appealing.

The Orchestral Suite No. 2, Op. 22, originated as an adaptation from Shebalin’s incidental music to the Dumas play ‘La Dame aux Camélias’, staged in the mid-1930s at the Meyerhold State Theatre. In 1962 Shebalin revised the score and it was introduced the same year also in Moscow by the State Symphony Orchestra of the USSR under Evgeny Svetlanov. Cast in eight movements this is certainly pleasant but doesn’t quite have the impact or memorable qualities of the First Suite. Particularly enjoyable is the opening Waltz, a colourful piece that feels as if it should be gracing a ballet.

The orchestra rewards its artistic director and chief conductor Dmitry Vasiliev with alert playing of vitality and substantial expressive character. Impeccably prepared by Vasiliev the unison of the orchestra is evident. Unquestionably this is a marvellous orchestra and an invitation to the BBC Promenade Concert series cannot come too soon.

The Siberian Symphony Orchestra is based in the Siberia capital of Omsk, Shebalin’s place of birth and where this recording was made at the Philharmonic Hall. This is the second Toccata Classics recording I have heard from that hall which underwent substantial redevelopment in 2010/11 and comes across as having a quite spectacular acoustic. The recording is vividly clear with substantial presence. Very much to my taste is the orchestral balance with the engineers ensuring that the thunderous percussion is not relegated to the background.

Enjoyable from the first to last these examples of Shebalin’s music deserve increased exposure and with a recording as splendid as this from the Siberian Symphony Orchestra it could hardly receive finer advocacy.

Michael Cookson

And another review ...

This is not the first Shebalin disc from Toccata. That aside we should recall that Olympia recorded his complete string quartets quite apart from reissuing various analogue Shebalins on CD: Symphonies 1 and 3 OCD 577; Symphony 2 and 4 OCD 597; Dramatic Symphony – Lenin (to texts by Mayakovsky) OCD 204 and Symphony 5 OCD 599. Sadly the Olympias have all been deleted. The Violin Concerto is on Regis RRC1310.

The fourteen movements that comprise these two suites are all drawn from Shebalin’s music for the theatre. There is a third suite which is from 1965 and which is a delight to come. While by no means facile all these tracks are certainly light music. It has softer edges and contours than the light music of his friend Shostakovich. Sarcasm and excoriating wit are not in this aspect of the Shebalin vocabulary.

The second suite is dedicated to Shostakovich’s collaborator Lev Atovmian. A stolid Funeral March makes way for an wild-eyed Dance with feline screeching clarinet, a smooth saxophone and a romantic violin solo. There's a smoochy Slow Waltz and then an insouciant Second Dance with gurgling and warbling woodwind before a light-on-the toes Waltz.

The Second Suite starts with a carefree Waltz redolent of Barber’s Souvenirs followed by a spinning Tarantella then an unhurried slow dance with prominent roles for solo violin and clarinet. The Bolero is warm, flowing and grandly flamboyant. The searching Omsk violins here reveal a steely side to their tone. Then comes a Potpourri and not for the last time do we hear echoes of jaunty Tchaikovsky who in the Romance Without Words makes way for the grandly balletic Tchaikovsky. Ready yourself for a frothy Offenbach-influenced Galop but with Soviet neon to light things up.

True to form the thorough essay by Anastasia Belina-Johnson is across 11 footnoted pages in English only.

Shebalin’s talent here extended into the lighter sphere.

Rob Barnett

Full Track-List
Orchestral Suite No. 1, Op. 18 (1934–36)
1 No. 1 Funeral March [5:18]
2 No. 2 Dance [4:28]
3 No. 3 Slow Waltz [5:07]
4 No. 4 Dance [3:36]
5 No. 5 Song [6:04]
6 No. 6 Waltz [6:27]
Orchestral Suite No. 2, Op. 22 (1962)
(first digital recording)
7 No. 1 Waltz [3:50]
8 No. 2 Tarantella [3:07]
9 No. 3 Slow Waltz [3:34]
10 No. 4 Bolero [2:00]
11 No. 5 Romantic Waltz [3:40]
12 No. 6 Potpourri [2:34]
13 No. 7 Romance without Words [7:35]
14 No. 8 Galop [4:59]