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Leningrad Symphonies II
Vladimir TSITOVICH (1931-2012)
Symphony No 2 for chamber orchestra (1974) [22:16]
Sergei Mikhailovich SLONIMSKY (1932-2020)
Symphony No 8 for strings, trumpet and bells (1985) [12:50]
Symphony No 9 for symphony orchestra (1987) [30:41]
Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra/Arcady Schtenlucht (Tsitovich); /Timur Mynbaev (Slonimsky 9); Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra/Saulius Sondeckis (Slonimsky 8); Vassily Kan (trumpet); Nikolay Volkov (bells) (8)
rec. 1980-89, Leningrad Grand Hall.

To follow Northern Flowers first and exploratory disc of ‘Leningrad Symphonies’ comes this new volume of three symphonies by two Russian composers. Both were born in the early 1930s and died in the 2000s.

Tsitovich (or Tsytovich) studied in Leningrad and at times with Boris Arapov who was also a teacher for Yuri Falik. His list of works includes sketches for orchestra and narrator on Hasek’s The Good Soldier Svejk, four symphonies (1969, 1974, 1992, 1997), concertos for viola; cello; piano; flute; guitar and for four horns. The last one and the four symphonies I would especially like to hear. What are the chances of that being fulfilled?

Tsitovich’s Symphony No 2 for chamber orchestra seems to evoke a November walk with the occasional sprint through its desolate and souring landscape. It’s in a single movement (although there is a distinct pause at about 13:00) and is accented with softened dissonances at times redolent of The Rite of Spring. Its panorama is festooned in languidly hesitant clouds of anxiety but goes through transformations into darting and furiously waspish power. The orchestration is always transparent. The piece ends in a burst of activity that recalls the wilder climaxes of the symphonies of William Schuman.

In my book Slonimsky is a comparatively familiar figure and an overwhelmingly prolific one. He has figured on two of this label’s orchestra CDs (review ~ review). This apart, there are operas, ballets, 33 symphonies, 11 concertos, much chamber music and film scores. The Eighth symphony was written for the performers we hear here. It’s barely 13 minutes in duration and was written in chronological ‘sight’ of the end of Communism in 1991. The music has a high breaking strain and is taut. Dissonance is in evidence at various points but other voices surface such as Russian Orthodox chant at 8:13 and hieratic and very active bells and trumpet (almost Hovhaness here) at 9:35 onwards.

Slonimsky’s half-hour Ninth is for full orchestra and is in two movements: Andante and Allegro. The first of these is a confident but sober traversal of folk and church melodies. Dissonance seems to have been abnegated in favour of tonality, although the music remains gaunt. Again, the trumpet plays a bit part, but a prominent one. Out of the quietness into which the Andante sinks comes an active Allegro which is occasionally as hesitant as the start of the Tsitovich and at other times bristling with energy. It closes with a hard won calm.

The recordings are satisfyingly clear, if not the last word in sumptuous sound. So far as I can tell the playing appears technically and aesthetically faithful. The liner booklet outlines and plumps up the context of each composer and their works. It is in English only.

I am not sure why these are “Leningrad Symphonies” except that they were written during the Soviet regime’s high maturity when the city was called Leningrad. This is a pretty good reason. Meantime, direct your attention to the music.

Rob Barnett

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