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Andrei PETROV (1930-2006)
The Creation of the World - music for the ballet - Suite No.1 (1968); Suite No. 3 (1975) [10:20 + 14:57]
The Master and Margarita - symphonic fantasia (1985) [23:52]
Farewell to … - symphonic fantasia (2005) [22:29]
Marya Lyudko (soprano) (Farewell)
St.-Petersburg Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra/Yuri Temirkanov (Creation 1); Alexander Dmitriev (Master)
St.-Petersburg Chamber Orchestra/Edward Serov (Creation 3)
State Kapella Symphonic Orchestra/Alexander Tchernushenko (Farewell)
rec. St Petersburg Recording Studio, 1971-2008

Suite from the ballet The Creation of the World (1971) [34:25]
String Quartet No. 2 From the Depths of Memory (2002) [9:57]
A Forgotten Tune (1987) [2:32]
Humoresque (1964) [2:45]
I’m Walking Along Broadway for double bass and string orchestra (1998) [3:00]
Gypsy Rhapsody for violin and string orchestra (1958) [5:17]
A New Violinist in the Orchestra - Perpetuum Mobile for violin and string orchestra (1961) [4:31]
Works arranged for string orchestra by Grigory Korchmar (2003-04)
Ilya Ioff (violin)
The Divertissement String Orchestra
rec. 28-30 May 2010, St Catherine Lutheran Church, St Petersburg

Russian composer, Andrei Petrov, a native of St Petersburg, certainly displays the common touch: accessible but lit brightly with imagination. His creative writing was honed in the Soviet film industry to which he contributed some eighty scores. For many collectors of a certain age his name might ring a far-off bell: EMI added his Poem - In Memory of the Victims of the Siege of Leningrad (1969) to HMV Melodiya SLS 791-2 as a make-weight for Yuri Shaporin's sturdy: The Story of the Battle for the Russian Land - by no means as shallow as the title might seem to threaten. Slightly more recently Boheme (a label much missed) offered an all-Petrov collection. A few years later Talents of Russia did likewise but added some more substantial fare including the Violin Concerto. Those two discs overlap with this Northern Flowers pair including a suite each from Petrov's 'hit', the ballet The Creation of the World which took as its subject the innocent, artful 1945 illustrations by Jean Effel (1908-82). This score is full of character - a sort of dissident Nutcracker of the 1970s.

The first disc opens with two suites from The Creation of the World (1971). Each movement is a jewel of clarity presented in an unadorned setting. The first suite is in two movements: I. Angels' Round Dance and II. The Creation of the World. The Dance is an entertaining collision between Prokofiev and Petrushka. It is raw, raucous, childlike and fantastic like a Tim Burton animation of a dreamy rocky-rolling train journey; half innocent, half scary. The Creation of the World movement is a saucy Milhaud-meets-Satie showpiece. Suite No. 3 comprises: I. The Creation of Adam; II. He- and She-Devils; III. The Merry Chase; IV. Ave, Eva. The Adam movement is indebted to Prokofiev's Classical Symphony in its combination of early classical poise and 20th century romance. He- and She-Devils is a granite-hard, wildly jazzy thing with a ricocheting down-and-dirty sound familiar from West Side Story. It's all brassy spit, grit and bite, percussion attack and piano aggression. The Merry Chase again leans pretty candidly on Prokofiev. Ave, Eva is a lovely sentimental monothematic movement in which an aspiring melodic fragment is taken up by various parts of the orchestra including solo violin and solo trumpet.

The following pair of symphonic fantasias are individually about 23 minutes duration - a single track for each. The Master and Margarita (based on the novel by Mikhail Bulgakov) shows that Petrov has purged his debt to Prokofiev and moved on. The author tells us in his notes that it is a free-format symphony. The music is variously stressed presenting an obdurately tough face but then finds yield and the softer emotions (8:03). There is the occasional cough to remind us that this may well have been from a live performance. Yawping violence melts into a dreamlike and often disrupted take on Ravel's La Valse. This is followed by a distant soliloquy for what sounds like an electronic organ. This gives way to meditative solo flute before pages, heavy with foreboding, return and usher in a sentimental farewell that picks its way through the ruins, trembling.

The most recent piece here is Farewell to …. This too is presumably a concert performance with the occasional cough audible. It opens in a silvery murmur from the violins with quiet chimes. The effect is cleanly presented. While superficially there are some similarities with Silvestrov's Fifth Symphony here the textures are pristine, uncluttered and not lavish. Waspish, rasping and militant writing bursts in, fades away and lets the silvery gleam return. This has a definite emotional payload unlike much of the opening of The Master and Margarita. More piano-accompanied fantasy enters the scene with jungle-jazzy material melting in and out of focus. The music suggests some unruly cauldron capering around on three legs. A shrill soprano (Maria Lyudko) adds a wild-eyed descant. She returns, self-possessed yet desolate, after all that volcanic energy dissipates. The music finds and makes peace at the last. These last two tracks may be concert performances but there is applause only at the end of Farewell to ….

On the second disc Petrov is represented in string orchestra arrangements made by Grigory Korchmar for his Divertissement String Orchestra. The eight movements from The Creation of the World are by and large familiar from the full orchestra versions on the first disc. Korchmar appears to have done nothing to soften Petrov's sometimes bewilderingly fanciful and delightful imagination. The music also retains a romance that bounces around between Prokofiev, Vivaldi, Loussier and Bach.

Korchmar's up-scaling of the ten-minute String Quartet No. 2 presents the work as a violent contrast between a rising nostalgic whisper of melancholy (Pärt's Cantus), brutal shuddering rhythmic interjections and massively resonant pizzicato writing in the manner of Schnittke.

A Forgotten Tune turns out to be a sentimental soft-focus, eye-moistening miniature with more than a touch of 1970s film music. Humoresque is a fluffy mass-market pizzicato fol-de-rol delivered at presto with a nice part for solo violin - high level commercial light music. I’m Walking Along Broadway for double bass and string orchestra is a spicy Gershwin-inflected stroll amd swagger that adroitly fits the title. The Gypsy Rhapsody for violin and string orchestra is typical bipartite piece - swooning, sultry, hooded eyes and then a wild Hungarian style volcanic fantasy. The final pizz resonates luxuriously. A New Violinist in the Orchestra - Perpetuum Mobile for violin and string orchestra flies along in the warmest of confidence - scintillating feel-good music. It ends in tapping of bows and applause and bravos but then bounces back and takes flight again. Campoli would have loved this …. If only. Hats off to Ilya Ioff and his death-defying violin.

The sound on each of the two CDs is of exemplary clarity.

The useful notes for the two discs are in Russian Cyrillic text followed by an English translation.

Petrov wrote a lot and these two discs speak for only a small part of it. Even so, his unruly imaginative music for The Creation of the World deserves a place at the top table. From it you can look North to the two symphonic fantasies and South to his brilliant feel-good commercial music.
Rob Barnett



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