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Leningrad Symphonies
Orest Alexandrovich YEVLAKHOV (1912-1973)
Symphony No.3, Op.35 (1967) [32:51]
Yuri Alexandrovich FALIK (b.1936)
Light Symphony (1971) [11:56]
Sergei Mikhailovich SLONIMSKY (b.1932)
Symphony No. 4 (1982) [28:12]
Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra/Arvids Jansons (Yevlakov); Alexander Dimitriev (Falik); Israel Gusman (Slonimsky)
rec. 1973-87, St Petersburg Recording Studio, Leningrad Philharmonic Grand Hall

Not quite Whitman’s “unknown region” but this repertoire-driven and shaped disc “darest” into neglected realms.

Orest Yevlakhov was born in Warsaw but the winds of world conflict and ambition blew him to Rostov, Moscow, Minsk, Baku and then to Leningrad in time for the murderous depredations of the Nazi siege. There is more than a hint of wormwood in this third of three symphonies. As for Leningrad’s war experiences it prompted from Yevlakhov various works, including A Leningrad Diary - four pieces for solo piano played without pause. He was a prolific composer and also wrote, amongst much else, five orchestral suites, the Poem-Concerto for violin and orchestra (recorded with Symphony No. 3 on a 1973 Melodiya SM 04035-6 LP), a Piano Concerto, chamber and film music.

Yevlakhov’s Third Symphony was written in the midst of the Brezhnev era (1964-82) in the same year that Shostakovich (one of Yevlakhov’s teachers in Leningrad) completed his Second Violin Concerto and tone poem October. 1971 also saw Karayev’s Violin Concerto, Eshpai’s Concerto for Orchestra and fellow ex-Warsaw resident, Moishe Vainberg: Symphony No. 9, Ivanovs' Symphony No. 12 and Giya Kancheli’s Symphony No. 1; this was a time of diverse styles and invention within the USSR.

Northern Flowers have Yevlakov’s five-movement Symphony No.3 in three tracks: the first and second pairs grouped into single tracks. The first is locked into a sort of bleak, thoughtful and chastened nobility. The latter quality is borne high by the brass, especially the trumpets, in several scorching Miaskovskian ascents. The second includes a grotesque pizzicato to which nobility returns in a torrid trumpet solo at 9:30. In the following movements the strings are a degree or two warmer but this soon resolves into torture and ultimately tragedy. The skies lighten but are still Delabole grey despite an insistently repetitive solo violin line. Again, the striving trumpet principal has much to do. The whole effect is more sanguine but not exactly a golden opulence. The final Andante ends with a tremulous descent by the violins into niente. There’s either an audience present (though no applause) or the orchestra members are prone to the odd cough.

This is the second time Yevlakhov has been visited by Northern Flowers (NFPMA9988) - Volume 12 of their Wartime Music series - and setting out his Concerto Suite, Symphony No. 1 and The Night Patrol.

The conductor of the Yevlakhov is Arvids Jansons (father of Mariss), born in 1914. He died during a Manchester concert, including Mahler’s Fifth Symphony in 1984. Arvids was a regular in Manchester in his latter years: I recall, in 1978, a broadcast with the Hallé of Shostakovich’s Fourteenth in which Finnish soprano Taru Valjakka sang. Many years before that he also recorded, with Irina Arkhipova, a sizzling account of de Falla’s El amor brujo.

As a break from intense gloom along comes Yuri Falik’s Light Symphony. It plays for 12 minutes across three movements, It is light and pretty easy to assimilate. The first is very optimistic and pastoral romantic. This is followed by a wistful middle movement with just a hint of Petrushka about it. The swaggering finale strides out with a purposeful strut while flags seem to snap and crack in the revolutionary gale. The overblown bombast fails to live up to the high expectations engendered by the first movement.

Falik came from Odessa and died a decade ago in Leningrad. He studied in Leningrad from 1955 to 1964 and one of his leading teachers was Boris Arapov. His other compositions included Tyll Ulenspiegel (after Charles de Coster) - a ballet mystery in one act, a Violin Concerto, a Cello Concerto, String Quartets, in 1993 a Symphony No. 2 Kaddish and in 1996 a Mass for soloists, choir and chamber orchestra.

Sergei Slonimsky was born in Leningrad and studied at various times with Vissarion Shebalin and Boris Arapov. Orest Yevlakhov taught him composition. There are at least 33 symphonies, including No. 27 The Lyrical, written in 2010 and dedicated to Myaskovsky. In addition there are operas, string quartets and various concertos, including a violin concerto and one for electric guitar.

Slonimsky’s Fourth Symphony is in four movements with the first two laid down here in a single track. The work is dedicated to the memory of Slonimsky’s father. The symphony presents a warmer, more yielding and humane face than the Yevlakhov. Loud brass paragraphs in the first movement at 6.50 contrast later with intertwining woodwind and strings. The third movement is lively, with demonstrative orchestral piano, whooping brass and piercing trumpets; the latter suddenly reminiscent of the Yevlakhov symphony. The finale is a towering Marcia funebre which seems to have taken a tint from Russian Orthodox chant. Though expressed in a different style this seems to be a brother under its great striding, stalking, brazen trumpets, to William Alwyn’s, admittedly more concentrated, Symphony No. 5. The Alwyn is founded on the words: “… man is a Noble Animal, splendid in ashes, and pompous in the grave… [not] omitting Ceremonies of bravery, in the infamy of his nature. Life is a pure flame, and we live by an invisible Sun within us.” The Slonimsky delivers a considerable punch not far removed from those words. Again, the recording session clearly included a few coughs but no applause.

Northern Flowers provide excellent yet anonymous programme notes for this unexpected and welcome collection from the USSR’s Cold War depths.

Rob Barnett

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