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Airat ICHMOURATOV (b. 1973)
Youth Overture, Op.50 (2016) [13.48]
Maslenitsa Overture, Op.36 (2012) [11.34]
Symphony, Op. 55 ‘On the Ruins of an Ancient Port’ (2015-2017) [47.37]
Orchestre De La Francophonie/Jean-Philippe Tremblay
rec. 2019, Oscar Peterson Concert Hall, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
CHANDOS CHAN20172 [73:07]

It is said that at the premiere of Beethoven’s Eroica, a member of the audience shouted, “I’d give a kreutzer if it were all over.’ After listening to this CD, I know how he felt.

I am very conscious that it will give some listeners pleasure. The music is utterly undemanding, performances keen and committed from Tremblay and his young orchestra, admirably recorded in warm Chandos sound. I just wish I liked it more. It cannot transcend cliché and ultimate triviality.

Airat Ichmouratov was born in Kazan where he studied clarinet, before moving permanently to Canada for further study, notably in conducting. He composes prolifically, and performs widely as conductor, in chamber music and – unusually for someone of Muslim origins – for the klezmer group. Kleztory. He describes himself as very consciously of the Russian school, and there are many familiar echoes in his music, with elements of Mussorgsky, touches of Rimsky-Korsakov in orchestration, and elements of Glazunov and – especially - Khachaturian in his style. Much is energetic and lively, and there are quieter moments, but it is difficult – for me at least – to find a distinctive voice. Too much has the character of written-to-fit film music, without truly memorable big themes. Especially in the Symphony, I found myself anticipating what the next passage would bring – and was correct remarkably often. If someone were to hear the symphony without knowing its date of competition, any date in the last 150 years would be a justifiable guess.

Consider the Symphony, ‘On the Ruins of an Ancient Fort,’ in four movements. It is finely orchestrated, has variations within each movement, and was inspired by Fort Longueuil, in the eponymous city on the St Lawrence River. It is programme music, in many ways, meant to show, for instance in the second movement, such things as the current bustle within the town – the first movement is meant as a portrait of the founder of the settlement. The third movement is elegiac, described in the notes as ‘nostalgic rather than sorrowful … with swelling strings … [and] … lyrical solos … heard from the trumpet, flute, and clarinet.’ The inspiration was clearly a very personal one, involving, among other things, the tragic, sudden death of the composer’s mother. But what one hears is a 14-minute movement, nicely done, which, after repeated hearings, failed to stick in my memory or to arouse any emotion – what I heard was a more generalised ‘this is how elegies are written’ exercise. The symphony as a whole, to be blunt, is boring. At over three-quarters of an hour, it is too long for such slender material.

The ’Youth’ Overture, from 2016, is dedicated to the present performers, and ‘To the Youth of our Planet, ambitious and fearless in making our home a better place.’ It is a jolly, occasional piece of lightish music, mainly in C major, which is technically assured and very much a crowd-pleaser. ‘Maslenitsa’ is vaguely reminiscent of Glinka, and is meant to represent the (Russian) week before Lent. As a piece, it is inoffensive.

The orchestra and conductor are splendid, and recorded in warm, Chandos sound. It would be good to hear them in more substantial repertoire.

Michael Wilkinson

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