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Vasily Pavlovich KALAFATI (1869-1942)
Symphony in A minor, Op.12 (1899) [45:36]
Légende, Op.20 (1928) [28:04]
Polonaise in F major, Op.14 (1905) [7:21]
Choir of the Music Department of Athens Unversity
Athens Philharmonia Orchestra/Byron Fidetzis
rec. 2017/2018, Artemis Concert Hall, Athens
NAXOS 8.574132 [81:28]

This extremely generously filled CD is yet another Naxos production that expands the range of music by composers that most Western music lovers have never heard of. For making these recordings, Naxos deserve to be extravagantly praised.

This issue consists of orchestral music by the Russian/Soviet composer Vasily Kalafati, of Greek extraction; he always considered himself to be Greek. He was a pupil of
Rimsky-Korsakov and subsequently became a lecturer and then professor at the
St Petersburg Conservatory, where Scriabin, Stravinsky and Heino Eller were numbered amongst his students.

The longest work (by far) presented here is his Symphony, started when he had just graduated, and which took him some twelve years to complete. Alas, I found it to be an uninspired piece, lacking in melodic memorability, and much too long for its material. It is in four movements, with the outer ones being fast and the middle two being a scherzo and slow movement. Even the slow movement, the usual place for a composer to demonstrate lyrical invention, fails to impress. It consists of two undistinguished melodies, with the second culminating in a climax. I rarely caught any hint of the winsome, often exotic melodiousness that we hear in Borodin or Balakirev, nor much of the orchestral imagination of Rimsky-Korsakov, although I see that in his review of the same CD, Rob Barnett feels differently. I should think it unlikely that I will return to the piece for subsequent
re-listening,

The shortest piece on the CD is the Polonaise Op.14. He composed it just after being dismissed from the Conservatory in 1929 for “teaching in the old-fashioned style”. Quite what this phrase means the booklet note does not explain but maybe he refused to embrace Schoenbergian principles. The Polonaise may never have been performed in Russia, but was published in Leipzig. Only one performance is known to have occurred, and that was in Minnesota in 1913. The work has a rather celebratory character with vivid orchestration, and consists of three melodic ideas, only the first of which is in the style of a polonaise. Again, I found the melodic material to be lacking in memorability.

By far the most interesting work on the CD is the Légende. Kalafati composed it for the 1928 International Schubert Competition in Vienna, where it won second prize. It is unusual in that it is based on three themes from Schubert’s canon, and the booklet notes inform us that the composer utilised “only reminiscences”, without naming the pieces. I was rather baffled by this, because the music of Schubert rarely features in my listening, and given his enormous output of songs, I suspected that I would be unable to identify the works used. Indeed, this proved to be the case, and so I played the Légende to a friend, who is far, far more familiar with Schubert’s output than I am. Even he was unable to say which works were used, and given that he too is a MusicWeb reviewer, to spare his blushes, I will not name him.

Légende is a symphonic poem, with the occasional use of a wordless female chorus, which interjects for a few bars several times. Stylistically, it is late romantic with appropriately full orchestration, with the tinkling of a celesta giving a sparkling conclusion to the choral
passages. The melodic motifs which are quite memorable, are repeated frequently with embellishments in the varied instrumentation. Unlike many symphonic poems, it does not possess a grand climax, and finishes rather suddenly and unexpectedly.

It is a curious piece, apparently regarded as being Kalafati’s best work.

The production values of this issue are high, with a decently informative essay in both English and Greek. The recording is good, without being outstanding, the chorus sing their brief parts well and the orchestra, founded as recently as late 2016, is equally committed.

Jim Westhead

Previous review: Rob Barnett



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