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Leningrad String Quartets
Veniamin Yefimovich BASNER (1925-1996)
String Quartet No.1 (1948) [11:53]
German Grigoriyevich OKUNEV (1931-1973)
String Quartet No.2 (1962) [22:00]
Sergei SLONIMSKY (b.1932)
Antiphons for string quartet (1968) [11:18]
Alexander CHERNOV (1917-1971)
String Quartet No.1 (1949) [15:33]
Yakov Fyodorovich PRIGOZHIN (1926-1994)
String Quartet No.1 (1970) [9:54]
Taneyev Quartet
rec. 1966-73, St Petersburg (Leningrad) Recording Studio at Capella Concert Hall. ADD

These mid-20th century composers share Leningrad (St Petersburg) credentials whether by birth, ‘adoption’, academic choice or creative milieu. The only one who clings on to a very narrow unstable ledge of familiarity is Sergei Slonimsky; more of that later. Slonimsky is the only one of the five who is still alive.

Veniamin Basner has had some fame in Russia with three symphonies, two concertos and five quartets. As with so many Russian composers he was active in the world of cinema and in song production. His songs find their place in the Second Symphony and the Fifth Quartet. The First Quartet has about it a bleak tenderness rather like early Rawsthorne. Its filmic qualities are played out against pained lyrical intensity - some of it quite eerie.

German Okunev attended musical school in Leningrad. He graduated from the Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory in Leningrad, where he studied with Boris Klyuzner, among others. In 1964 he worked with Shostakovich as a post-graduate pupil. His catalogue includes a ballet Kuiruchuk (1961), which is based on Kirghiz themes. There are also two symphonies (of which the First dates from his Shostakovich years) and concertos for oboe and two pianos. The Second Symphony is said to be “concise but effective and carefully crafted”. It was first performed in 1972 in Leningrad. The String Quartet No.2 which is in five movements, here tracked into three, is spiky and ferocious, bleak and ends in withering anxiety and velocity.

The Slonimsky Antiphons are for string quartet but be it noted there are thirty largely unknown symphonies. His quartet is, like Prigozhin’s Quartet, a very modernistic piece which betrays a regard for Penderecki in its wailing paragraphs and slip-sliding notes. Slonimsky presents a more beckoning face in the recent Northern Flowers disc of Leningrad violin concertos.

Alexander Chernov’s String Quartet No.1 is in three movements. The severe intense pounding of the Andante resolves in the later two movements into a distanced cool, a submissive grace and in music-box pirouettes but moderated from prettiness by a serrated edge. As a violinist, Chernov has recorded music by the early Russian Khandoshkin.

Lucian Prigozhin must not be confused with song-writer Yakov Progozhin, whose songs have been recorded by Georgi Vinogradov and Elena Obraztsova. Lucian, a pupil of Schcherbakov, was a writer of three symphonies and is by no means a post-romantic. His single-movement String Quartet No.1 revels in the wildest ultima thule. Its pattering and spattering jerky spasms place it in a similar camp to the Slonimsky.

The plenteous and instructive liner notes are by Sergey Suslov.

The recordings are clean and vivid and the Taneyev Quartet, which with its inaugural personnel was formed in 1946, holds nothing back in advocating this very unfamiliar music. I hope that we will hear the symphonies of these varied and sometimes pugnacious composers.

Rob Barnett

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