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Dmitry KABALEVSKY (1904-1987)
Symphonic Suite: Romeo and Juliet, Op. 56 (1956) [41:01]
Overture Pathétique, Op. 64 (1960) [4:44]
Spring, Op. 65 (1960) [6:26]
Overture to opera Colas Breugnon, Op. 24 (1936/38, rev. 1953/69) [5:13]
Orchestral suite The Comedians, Op. 26 (1940) [15:53]
Byelorussian Radio and TV Symphony Orchestra/Anatoly Lapunov
rec. December 1994, January 1995, Radio Committee Recording Studio, Minsk, Belarus
DELOS DRD2017 [73.47]

Originally released in 1996 on Consonance 81-0001 this fascinating 2012 Delos re-issue lets us again hear recordings of five orchestral works from the pen of Soviet-Russian composer Dmitry Kabalevsky.

A close contemporary of Shostakovich, Kabalevsky was one of the leading figures in the music life of the Soviet Union. He helped to form the extremely powerful Union of Soviet Composers. Born in St Petersburg, Kabalevsky moved with his family to Moscow and studied at the Conservatory with Nikolai Myaskovsky as his composition teacher. In 1932 he began teaching at the Conservatory and became a professor there. Following the now infamous 1948 Zhdanov Decree, Kabalevsky was initially placed on the list of composers guilty of formalism but in due course his name was removed. Today Kabalevsky is probably better known for his key role in Soviet music than for his actual compositions. They rarely appear on concert programmes outside his home country. I’m not sure the word ‘great’ can be attached to any of Kabalevsky's music but it is nevertheless accessible, frequently lyrically attractive and certainly rewarding to explore.

From 1956 the Symphonic Suite: Romeo and Juliet, Op. 56 comprising ten musical drawings was taken from the composer’s incidental music for a Moscow production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. This score reveals a broader than normal range of contrasting emotions including some that are ominously dark and tormented. Encompassing contrasting moods the final piece Death and Reconciliation, at nine and a half minutes, could serve as a miniature tone poem. Next the Orchestral suite The Comedians, Op. 26 is taken from the incidental music to the children’s play The Inventor and the Comedians. Consisting of ten varied and colourfully upbeat pieces the rollicking ComediansGalop: Presto is frequently used as a television theme and is certainly the best known. The Overture Pathétique and Symphonic poem Spring are relatively short, stand-alone orchestral works from 1960. Although relatively appealing and well crafted neither is remarkable or especially memorable. The final work here is also the earliest: the Overture to the opera Colas Breugnon. Set in 16th/17th century, Burgundy, France and based on a novel by Romain Rolland the three act opera was Kabalevsky's first - of five. Bold, vibrant and upbeat, with a characteristically impatient feel, the Overture was taken up by none other than Toscanini who played it worldwide in the 1940s and 1950s.

It is clear that Anatoly Lapunov has prepared his Byelorussian Radio and TV Symphony Orchestra remarkably well. With unwavering concentration the Byelorussian orchestra provides glowingly characterful and vividly colourful playing. With the booklet essay I was left wanting more than the basic information about each work. The engineers have provided excellent sonics which are crystal clear and sympathetically balanced.

Michael Cookson