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Alexander MOYZES (1906-1984)
Symphony No. 11, op. 79 (1978) [37:42]
Symphony No. 12, op. 83 (1983) [32:08]
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Ladislav Slovák
rec. 1993/95, Concert Hall, Slovak Radio, Bratislava
MARCO POLO 8.225093 [69:50]

Rob Barnett reviewed the first five releases in this complete series of the Moyzes symphonies in 2000-02 (see below). Somehow, this final recording was missed out, an omission that I discovered when this appeared as a daily discount on a download site recently. Since this is such interesting music from a little known figure of the twentieth century, I felt it was worthwhile completing the set, some two decades after the recordings were made.

Some biographical details first. Moyzes was born in northern Slovakia, and studied composition at the Prague Conservatorium with Vítězslav Novák. He occupied a number of important positions in the musical establishment in Bratislava across a career of more than forty years. He is described in the booklet as being one of the leading composers of his generation in Slovakia, though it must be said that the other names mentioned are as or even more obscure than his.

This is not the music one expects from the late 1970s and early 1980s. It is neither harshly atonal nor lushly post-Romantic. It is, instead, quite delicate - Rob Barnett called some of the earlier works "diaphanous" - and even the louder percussion-driven sections are not thunderous or menacing. Shostakovich unquestionably comes to mind; they are approximate contemporaries and undoubtedly Moyzes would have had similar problems with the authorities. However, this is Shostakovich without the harrowing irony. There is a much gentler cast to the music, which takes it closer to the English symphonists: I'm thinking of post-WW2 Vaughan Williams and Rubbra.

The Eleventh is a flawed, but impressive work, wide-ranging in moods, but always with restraint. By way of example, the work begins with an ominous crescendo on timpani. If this was Shostakovich, the crescendo would last much longer, and be much more overpowering - think of the massive climaxes in Symphonies 7 and 11 - but Moyzes pulls up short: on reaching fff, it ceases, changing into a melodic figure for the orchestra. As I listen to this work, the word "wistful" keeps popping into my mind. Rob Barnett has commented about less than successful final movements in some of the other symphonies. The same applies here, and indeed to the slow third movement as well, but not so much lack of interesting material, but for overstretching it. The symphony is bottom-heavy: the final two movements account for almost two-thirds of its running time. If the succinctness of the opening movements had been carried throughout, this would be a cracking work.

The Twelfth is Moyzes' final symphony, and indeed, his penultimate composition. It is a step down in quality from its predecessor. Much of the first and last (of three) movements are martial in nature, with incessant percussion, which doesn't really mask the lack of invention. The slow music in the first and middle movements is much better.

The booklet notes are reasonably informative, and the sound is as good as it got for Eastern European recordings for Marco Polo back in the 1990s.

These two symphonies are my first exposure to his music, which some might see as approaching it from the wrong direction. I have certainly enjoyed what I've heard, and while they certainly don't displace the great twentieth century symphonies, nor do they deserve such neglect.

David Barker

Reviews of other Moyzes symphonies on Marco Polo
Symphonies 1 & 2
Symphonies 3 & 4
Symphonies 5 & 6
Symphonies 7 & 8
Symphonies 9 & 10


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