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Alexander MOYZES (1906-1984)
Symphony No. 7 Op 50 (1954-55) [42.07]
Symphony No. 8 ‘21.08.1968’ Op 64 (1968-69) [28.20]
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/Ladislav Slovak
rec. 1990/84, Concert Hall of Slovak Radio, Bratislava
Originally issued as Marco Polo 8.225091
NAXOS 8.573653 [70.35]

I am coming to the symphonies of Moyzes for the first time and am clearly landing in the middle of a vast novel. But these two works represent a fully mature composer at the peak of his powers and that means that if you only want one disc of Moyzes symphonies this could be the one. But bear in mind that there are twelve symphonies, which makes him the most significant symphonist who has come from Slovakia in the twentieth century.

The Seventh Symphony is his longest work with the third and fourth movements themselves amounting to practically half an hour. The work opens with a ‘Pastorale’, which reminded me in many ways of Moyzes’s teacher, Novak and his ‘Serenades’. There follows a linked Scherzo, which precedes what the booklet note writer Ivan March describes as “the intellectual centre of the symphony”. The huge finale brings together all of the optimism and strength demonstrating how tragedy can be overcome. But which tragedy? The Largo especially evolved around the desperate loss of the composer’s daughter Martha who was only young when she died. If the opening movements have that typically strong element of central European dance melody and rhythm this Largo is deeply lyrical, yearning and unchanging but never indulgent. And what strength of character the composer demonstrates by writing such an heartening fourth movement only occasionally reflecting on what might have been. True, the material is a little wayward and artificially formulated but the effect is uplifting.

As usual with what was originally a Marco Polo recording there is a ‘boxyness’ to the woodwind and brass sound although the strings are very well spaced across the speakers. This point also applies to the Symphony No 8. In 1968 when Moyzes started to write it, some fifteen years after the Seventh he was a professor of composition in Bratislava Music Academy and the city, like the whole country, was dreadfully affected by the Russian invasion. This work was created in anger in the months following and because Moyzes entitled it ‘21.08.1968’ it was banned until the occupation was withdrawn in 1989 but was still not performed. Surprisingly, I think that this recording marked its first hearing but the composer had been dead for several years. March comments (in 1994) that no performance had occurred at all, I assume, up the time of the recording.

The symphony falls into three movements with, again, the powerful finale being the longest and the one, which, in its drama and rhythmic density seems to be the most affected by the occupation and tragedies which resulted. The middle one is a nasty scherzo but one feels that its mood could have been created at any time in the mid twentieth century. The first movement is certainly tense and tightly constructed although, oddly enough it is marked, ‘tranquillo’. It is formally very convincing and the orchestration often highly original.

The orchestra is based and recorded this music in Bratislava by a composer whose home was in that very city and which is seemingly totally comfortable with this music. It is therefore difficult to say how these performances might be improved but they are though slightly let down as indicated by, what is now, a recording which is a quarter of a century old.

Gary Higginson

Previous review: Rob Barnett

From Naxos: Marco Polo recorded in many different locations with different producers/engineers and the sound changed with these. The boxy sound is not a function of the age of the recording but of the location and engineers of this particular series which we acquired from the Slovak Radio.

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