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Leningrad Chamber Concertos
Sergei SLONIMSKY (1932-2020)
Concerto buffo (1964) [11:34]
Vladimir TSYTOVICH (or TSITOVICH) (1931-2012)
Viola Concerto (1965) [19:00]
Romuald GRINBLAT (1930-1995)
Flute Concerto (1970) [18:02]
Igor ROGALEV (b.1948)
Mandolin (Domra) Concerto "Domenico Scarlatti" (1980) [11:31]
Yuri Kramarov (viola), Albert Ratzbaum (flute), Alexander Makarov (domra)
Leningrad Chamber Orchestra/Edward Serov
rec. 1967-1982, Leningrad

Cool and modernistic chamber concertos from Russia’s second city; arguably its musical capital. They date from the mid-1960s through to the first years of the next two decades. Two are short (Slonimsky; Rogalev) and the others are within hailing distance of twenty minutes.

You never quite know what to expect from Slonimsky. He has adopted so many styles. There are several notable operas including Mary Stuart (1980), Hamlet (1990) and King Lear (2001) and much, much else. The Concerto buffo is short, like the Rogalev, but it is in a single movement. “Concerto Buffo” indeed; it certainly has a knockabout quality but all corseted in Schoenbergian stays.  Tsytovich (or Tsitovich) was a pupil of composer Boris Arapov and wrote extensively. His concerto is at first ruthless and very much in the pattern of a hunt-pursuit. It’s a conflation of Stravinskian neo-classicism and Walton-style breathlessness. Of its three movements the second is most like its contemporary work, the Slonimsky, in its querulous and melancholy soft discords. The finale is the most romantic of the three. That said, when it finds its feet the solo instrument barely lets up in a hoarse and intense pressing forward. A short episode of contemplation is reserved before an explosion of whipped-up energy brings the final curtain.

The short-lived Grinblat was a Latvian as his name implies. He wrote much including a rock opera and seven symphonies. In his concerto he serves up a battling and virtuosic flute concerto in four movements and 18 minutes. The word Allegro appears in every movement but these are not really expressions of brisk liveliness - at least not by generally conceived standards. The first movement is eccentric. There’s undoubtedly tension, yes, and certainly a tourney for the flautist in the variety of sounds demanded. The orchestration is often a spidery skein or takes a wrecking ball to whatever gentle expectations I might have harboured from the medium. Again, the music sounds essentially dodecaphonic and the orchestra (here just strings) operates in terms of insect chitters and flickers.

Like Grinblat, Rogalev has no track record in the Northern Flowers series. His concerto is in two movements. It’s three really, but the second and third are sandwiched in an “Adagio,.. Presto” that is roughly twice the length of the first movement. This homage to Scarlatti - if that is what it is - is by no means an overt copying of that composer’s soundworld. This is a fiesta of Stravinskian neo-classicism (Pulcinella) with a dash of Rodrigo (Fantasia para un gentilhombre) in the gene-pool. The solo instrument is identified as a domra - a four-string plucked instrument and a member of the guitar or mandolin family. As with the other soloists in these concertos, Alexander Makarov proves himself a doughty executant, as does the orchestra.

The liner booklet in Sergey Suslov’s fluently expressed English buttresses what are to all intents and purposes unfamiliar concertos.

The performances are communicative and the sound is collegiate in voicing the excellence of the playing.

A sargasso expanse of modernistic chamber concertos from Leningrad; a variegated diet but one tempered against the resurgence of melody or romance.

Rob Barnett

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