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Leningrad Violin Concertos
Vacheslav NAGOVITSYN (b.1939)
Violin Concerto (1969) [32:38]
Sergei SLONIMSKY (b.1932)
Concerto Primaverile for violin and string orchestra (1983) [20:25]
Vladislav USPENSKY (1937-2004)
Phantasmagoria for two violins and orchestra (1988) [18:32]
Marina Yashvili (violin: Nagovitsyn)
Sergey Stadler (violin: Slonimsky)
Maxim Vengerov, Arkady Gutnikov (violins: Uspensky)
Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra/Gintaras Rinkevicius (Nagovitsyn), Vladimir Ponkin (Slonimsky), Alexander Dmitriev (Uspensky)
rec. St Petersburg, 1983-89
NORTHERN FLOWERS NFPMA99128 [71:35]

Three works for violin and orchestra present the 'voices' of three Leningrad composers. The pieces are drawn from three decades in the second half of the century. None of this music is at all well known nor, with the exception of Stadler, Ponkin, Vengerov and Dmitriev, are the musicians. The orchestra, rejoicing in its Soviet title, is quite another matter.

These lively and full-blooded recordings, "dusted off" from the St Petersburg Musical Archive, may be products of the last century but they are not a problematic listen. That said, any claims to conventionality of form are a poor fit. The first work has two movements¸ the short Slonimsky has three but is for violin and string orchestra and the Uspensky work is for two violins and is cast in a single movement.

Nagovitsyn was born in Magnitogorsk in the Urals. A pupil of Shostakovich and Salmanov, he is a professor on the staff of the St Petersburg Conservatory. Among a smattering of pieces, including orchestrations of Mussorgsky's Salammbo and The Marriage, there is a Symphony from five years before this Violin Concerto. The Concerto was completed soon after Nagovitsyn's graduation. What we hear is a very lively concert performance with coughs here and there; they hardly matter. The composer's style is determined, doom-laden and dynamic. The music is more preoccupied with tragedy lying in wait around the corner rather than any hope of blue skies and sunshine. The second and final movement starts in a more pastoral vein but the ostinato pulse of time is present even as a flute describes delightful curves in the air. Aggression and scorch marks are the heritage of the hyper-active finale. Sparks and shrapnel fly left, right and centre and not only from the playing of highly accomplished violinist, Marina Yashvili.

Northern Flowers have smiled on Slonimsky before (Virineya suite (1974) and Sinfonietta (1966) on NF PMA 9943). A native of Leningrad, he is a composer with roots deep in tradition. A pupil of Shebalin and Arapov, he has thirty numbered symphonies (many recorded) to his name and is the nephew of the American musicologist and composer Nicolas Slonimsky (1894-1995). His compact three-movement Concerto Primaverile for violin and strings has a Barber-like Hispanic finale. As heard here, in a studio recording, it has the contemplative aspects of "the years that bring the philosophic mind" and a ruthless cutting edge laced with aqua regia. The soloist, Sergei Stadler, we have heard before in concertante works by Stephan and Garofalo. Conductor Ponkin may be known from his Prokofiev film and stage set for Saison Russe and his Artyomov. He steers the orchestra firmly.

Lastly, we get to hear an in-concert account of Phantasmagoria for two violins and orchestra by Omsk-born Vladislav Uspensky (1937-2004). We are back to full orchestra but one that is used with watch-maker precision. The work is in a single movement which combines a landscape of fragments and pointillism with lyrical solo lines. Its ambit takes in restfulness and high-hearted emotion but with a tinge of anxiety. At various times the music struck me as something of a "psychological" Four Seasons. At the close Uspensky finds quietude but there is understandable applause. The soloists are Maxim Vengerov (a very familiar name) and Arkady Gutnikov, the son of Boris Gutnikov who, it may be recalled, featured centre-stage on Soviet recordings of Khachaturian and Britten.

With this provocative collection Northern Flowers - carefully but anonymously documented - continue the process of shaking up the classical 'scene'. I keep my fingers crossed that they will at some point favour Yuri Shaporin's Symphony for chorus and orchestra, completed in 1932 and premiered in London by Albert Coates and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Then there are Ivan Dzerzhinsky's two piano concertos of the 1920s and 1930s which may have some promise. On the other hand, we can perhaps hope for some Slonimsky symphonies which might be closer to the front of the queue.

Rob Barnett

 



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