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Georgy SVIRIDOV (1915-1998)
Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello in A minor (1945/rev.1955) [26:32]
Quintet for Piano, 2 Violins, Viola and Cello (1945) [24:55]*
Romance from The Snowstorm (arr. for piano trio by Mikhail Ovrutsky) [5:41]
Beethoven Trio Bonn (Mikhail Ovrutsky (violin); Grigory Alumyan (cello); Jinsang Lee (piano))
Artur Chermonov (violin)
Vladimir Babeshko (viola)
rec. 2016, Studio 2, Bayerischer Rundfunk Munich
World Premiere Recordings (Quintet & Romance)
C-AVI MUSIC 8553375 [57:52]

Georgy Sviridov was born in Fatezh, in the southern-Russian region of Kursk in 1915. He's best known today for his choral and vocal music, embodying the rich traditional chant of the Russian Orthodox Church. His orchestral and instrumental music, not as widely known, also incorporated elements of Russian culture, where folk music is fused with modern musical forms, the latter chosen selectively.  Most of his instrumental and piano music peaked at a time of artistic maturity. He studied with Shostakovich at the Leningrad Conservatory, where the older composer became a long-time friend and mentor. A myopic condition curtailed his military service during the war, and he ended up in Novosibirsk, where the Leningrad Philharmonic had also been evacuated. Here he met Yevgeny Mravinsky, who conducted the premiere of his Piano Concerto.

When he moved to Moscow in the mid-fifties, he gained a reputation as an "official" composer, his large choral works gaining favour with the authorities. In fact his Oratorio Pathetique (1959) won a Lenin Prize in 1960. His music remained firmly within the acceptable confines of social realism, and he collected many accolades along the way - the Order of Lenin, People's Artist of the USSR in 1970 and Hero of Soviet Labour in 1975.

The Piano Quintet was penned at the end of the war in 1945, and is cast in four movements. It was dedicated to the composer Yuri Kochurov, who applauded its extensive emotional range ''from tragic pathos to sublime lyricism''. There's an abundance of passionate fervour in the opening movement. The energetic thrust of the music carries forth into the Presto which follows, brimming with self-confidence and bold assertion. A sombre Adagio sits third, filled with pathos and sorrow. The finale is a theme and variations, with the theme given out on the viola. The variations offer the listener a wealth of imaginative and inventive metamorphoses. At the end, the music builds to an overwhelming climax, before dying away to nothingness at the end.

It was Tchaikovsky’s A minor Piano Trio, published in 1882, that established the tradition of Russian elegiac trios, and the genre quickly caught on with Rachmaninov composing two, followed by a couple from Arensky and later with a pair from Shostakovich. Sviridov's Trio dates from 1945 and follows hot on the heels of the Piano Quintet. It reflects the suffering and life-changing events of the Second World War. The first movement is even marked Elegy, and its main theme appears in three of the four movements, offering some cohesion to the work. In this opening movement, at one point, the composer employs effects such as col legno, hitting the strings with the wood of the bow. The Scherzo offers some respite from the sombre demeanour with its playful disposition. The third movement is a Funeral March, whose persistent tread forms a backdrop to a melancholic narrative, reminiscent of the Dies Irae. The finale is an Idyll, pastoral-like yet with moments of pain and sorrow. The Trio ends quietly with an anguished dirge.

Unlike the Piano Quintet, which is here receiving its world premiere recording, the Trio has already had a couple of outings on CD. Unfortunately, I haven’t heard them.

The Romance from The Snowstorm, in an arrangement by the ensemble’s violinist Mikhail Ovrutsky, is certainly the icing on the cake. This delightful confection started life as a movement in a suite from The Snowstorm, a 1965 film based on an Alexander Pushkin story, of which Sviridov provided the musical soundtrack. Over the years it’s undergone numerous arrangements, a testament to its enduring popularity.

The Beethoven Trio Bonn were founded in 2005, initially making a name for themselves with their Beethoven playing. Of late they have turned their attentions to Russian repertoire. Having listened with great pleasure to this recording several times, their infectious enthusiasm, empathy and compelling vision accounts for the performances' success. The two musicians who join them for the Quintet have likewise the same commitment and belief in the music. The chosen recording venue ensures well-defined and detailed sound quality, enhanced by the richness and warmth of the playing. I would suggest that this release offers an ideal starting point to the music of a composer whose music is slowly making its presence felt and coming to the attention of record companies.

Stephen Greenbank

Previous review: Rob Barnett



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