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Alexander Lazarevich LOKSHIN (1920-1987)
Symphony No. 5 for baritone, string orchestra and harp Shakespeare's Sonnets (1969) [14:55]
Quintet for clarinet, two violins, viola and cello (1955) [22:58]
Piano Variations (1953) [24:33]
Ivan Mozgovenko (clarinet); The Komitas Quartet; Maria Grinberg (piano); Yan Kratov (baritone); Moscow Chamber Orchestra/Rudolf Barshai
rec. 1956-1971. ADD
MELODIYA MELCD1002446 [62:31]

Melodiya and BIS appear to have cornered the market when it comes to the music of Alexander Lokshin (1920-1987); this is the third volume Melodiya have issued. I missed the first, but managed to acquire the second containing Symphonies 4, 9 and 11, primarily for the Hungarian Fantasia, which features Yulian Sitkovetsky, a violinist I greatly admire. For those unfamiliar with Lokshin here's a potted biography. He was born in Bijsk, situated in Altai Krai, Russia, a city known as 'the gates to the Altai Mountains'. A protégé of Nikolai Miaskovsky and Heinrich Litinski at the Moscow Conservatory, he later taught orchestration there. His compositional endeavours include eleven symphonies, ten of which employ vocal elements, with only no. 4 purely orchestral. Other works include film and stage scores, a piano concerto, Three Scenes from Faust for soprano and orchestra, an early symphonic work Les Fleurs du Mal (1939), several chamber works and a set of piano variations.

He had several brushes with the authorities. A cultured man, well-versed in literature, he used poems in his symphonies which didn't conform to the Soviet ideal. This poetry was considered decadent and at odds with the concept of socialist realism. His Fleurs du Mal was set to verses by Baudelaire, which resulted in his expulsion from the Conservatory in 1941, and his Third Symphony was banned for his setting of Rudyard Kipling, seen as an 'ideologist of imperialism'. After the war he returned to the Moscow Conservatory, where he lectured in instrumentation. 1948 saw the start of the Andrei Zhdanov purges, and once again Lokshin was expelled, this time for promoting the 'ideologically alien' music of Mahler, Berg, Stravinsky and Shostakovich. He spent the remainder of his life as a freelance composer.

The Symphony No. 5 is subtitled Shakespeare's Sonnets and dates from 1969. This two-movement work for baritone solo, harp and strings draws on two of The Bard's sonnets. In the first movement’ No. 66 "Tir’d with all these, for restful death I cry", the poet protests his weariness with life, in light of all its injustices. The music is dissonant, strident and angst-ridden, with Yan Kratov suitably stentorian. In contrast, the second movement's Sonnet 73 "That time of year thou mayst in me behold" is more conciliatory. It relates how a person changes by growing older, mirrored in the seasonal shift of autumn to winter, and the passing of day to night. Lokshin lightens the orchestral textures, and the intimacy suggested invests the music with a chamber-like quality. Kratov’s eloquent rendition suitably catches the mood. He obviously sings it in Russian, but sadly no text or translation is provided. I did a comparison with another recording Barshai made live in the 1980s with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Sir Thomas Allen. It was helpful, as this version is sung in English. Unfortunately, it's only available as part of a 20 CD set issued by ICA Classics (A Tribute to Rudolf Barshai) (ICAB 5136). The sound quality on this later recording is brighter and more vivid, with the soloist more favourably profiled.

A much earlier work is the Quintet for clarinet, two violins, viola and cello, composed in 1955, and heard in a somewhat dated recording, set down in 1960. I say 'dated' as the sound is rather boxy, yet the performance by the Komitas Quartet and Ivan Mozgovenko is deeply committed and commands authority. These same performers premiered the work in 1957. The booklet notes tell us that it’s one of Lokshin's best works, and I couldn't agree more. It's cast in two linked movements. The opening Andante sostenuto begins with a solemn tread, and there are times when a Mahlerian angst seems to throw its hat into the ring. The clarinet is nicely balanced against the strings, its role being one of primus inter pares. The second movement is a lengthier Theme and Variations, where the mood lightens somewhat and shafts of light penetrate the canopy. The theme is genial and pleasing. The notes refer to a Stravinskian influence, specifically Dumbarton Oaks. What is clear is that the variations are imaginatively constructed and ingeniously displayed. It's certainly a work that would benefit from more exposure.

My enthusiasm for the Quintet also extends to the lengthy 24 minute Variations for Piano (1953), although this latter work is undoubtedly a harder nut to crack. I can hear echoes of Stravinsky in the percussive writing, and even Mussorgsky’s Pictures get their foot in the door at times. They were dedicated to Maria Grinberg, who performs them on this 1956 recording. It's an immensely challenging work, and Grinberg steps up to the mark with distinction, achieving a diverse range of sonorities along the way. Although substantial, it doesn't outstay its welcome, and despite the age of the recording, it has certainly scrubbed up well.

Lokshin was hailed a genius by Shostakovich, and it's evident from this release that he created his own unique voice and individual style. As for the symphonies, six are available to date on CD (4, 5, 7, 9, 10 and 11). Performances of Symphonies 2, 3, 8 and 6 can be heard on Youtube. Only no. 1 I have not been able to track down. I hope that Melodiya or BIS will fill in the gaps.

Stephen Greenbank
Previous review: Rob Barnett



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