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Emil TABAKOV (b.1947)
Complete Symphonies, Volume 1
Five Bulgarian Dances (2011) [19:39]
Symphony No.8 (2007-9) [43:38]
First recordings
Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestra/Emil Tabakov
rec. 7–10 June 2010 (Symphony No. 8) and 24–27 February 2014, Bulgarian National Radio, Sofia. DDD
Reviewed as lossless download from - booklet not provided.

Toccata continue their sterling efforts in giving us neglected music from the past and the works of contemporary composers who still keep faith with the harmonic past without being slaves to it.  The Bulgarian Dances which open this album, for example, clearly owe something to Bartók and Kodály yet are completely sui generis: though they sound as if they are folk-based they don’t borrow any actual melodies from Bulgarian music.  I don’t want to give the impression that they sound trivial.  They are very enjoyable and often hypnotic but not facile – try the end of No.4.  Emil Tabakov clearly enjoys approachable music: as a conductor he has contributed to a 2-CD confection of a wide range of bon-bons for Capriccio – review.  (Now download only: available from Presto.)

The Dances were composed after the Symphony, a powerful work which Tabakov thought it appropriate to follow with something more approachable.  The notes mention Mahler: like him Tabakov likes to use large forces, composes mainly in the Summer and frequently conducts his own music, as here, and that of others. Subscribers to Naxos Music Library and its sister site will find a wide range of music conducted by him, including all the Mahler symphonies and the Adagio from No.10 for Capriccio.  Otherwise Shostakovich, Brahms, Scriabin and Richard Strauss are among his foremost influences. I see that David Blomenberg described his music on an earlier Naxos CD of two concertos as likely to be amenable to those who like Prokofiev, Shostakovich or Shchedrin – review – and that’s about right.

That doesn’t mean that his music is an amalgam of these influences.  Symphony No.8 is music with something individual to say and though it’s not always a comforting message or an easy listen, I found it well worth hearing.  The mysterious opening largo has much of the evocative power of Rautavaara’s Cantus Arcticus, albeit without the bird calls, before building to a powerful climax.

It’s brave of Tabakov to follow one largo movement with another, especially as he uses it to explore ‘the potentialities of certain tropes already foreshadowed in the opening Largo’.  Nevertheless, it works for me.  I’m not sure that I spotted much of the ‘quicksilver music’ mentioned in the notes as featuring in the finale but it forms a very powerful conclusion to a symphony to which I shall certainly be listening again, with anger and protestation welling up before being resolved, all passion spent. 

With the composer at the helm the performances are de facto authoritative. The Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestra may not be the world’s greatest but they play very well for him.  Naxos discovered long ago that if you give little-known Eastern European orchestras enough time to rehearse and record they can sound first-rate.

I’ve already mentioned an earlier (2007) Naxos recording of Tabakov.  Hubert Culot enjoyed hearing it, but thought the music ‘disappointingly … thin in pure musical terms’ – review.  I think that a little harsh: I enjoyed listening to them from but they don’t have the depth and power of the symphony on Toccata.  I’m pleased to see that they have given us the more demanding work last: record companies are still to apt to do it the other way round.

Toccata seem to be working to a new system of time-keeping: the total time for this CD is given in the booklet as 63:63.  I’ve listed the times as given by Winamp.  I had to go to Naxos Music Library for that booklet: neither nor, surprisingly, Naxos’s sister site offers it, though the latter provides 24-bit sound for a considerable premium.  You do really need the notes to help place Tabakov’s music in context.

The 16-bit version which I downloaded is equivalent to CD quality and it sounds very well.  Though the dynamic range is wide, I didn’t have to keep adjusting the volume.

It’s all too rare to find a contemporary composer who doesn’t try to batter the listener into submission, so I look forward to the other albums in this series as they appear.  They also have several new recordings of their other speciality, earlier music, which I hope to explore.  I’ve already praised their recording of the organ music of John Worgan – reviewDownload News 2016/6 – but there’s plenty more that I haven’t yet heard.  Would that there were world enough and time.

Brian Wilson



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