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Jānis IVANOVS (1906-1983)
Symphony no. 15 Symphonia Ipsa in B-Flat Minor (1972) [32:11]
Symphony no. 16 in E-Flat Major (1974) [30:30]
Latvian National Symphony Orchestra/Guntis Kuzma
rec. 2021, Great Guild Concert Hall, Riga
SKANI LMIC126 [62:11]

Although we are hardly spoilt for choice when it comes to the orchestral music of the Latvian composer Janis Ivanovs, his music has wended its way on to recordings. LPs came courtesy of Melodiya and Latvian Radio. These covered all but the Sinfonia Humana (No. 13). The conductors deployed by Melodiya included Edgars Tons (1917-1967), Leonids Vigners (1906-2001), Eri Klas (1939-2016) and Vassili Sinaisky (b.1947); the latter well known to and loved by Manchester audiences, to Chandos admirers and to those who remember his vividly joyous Moeran Symphony at the 2009 Proms. CD products have been less systematic with a spate of the earlier symphonies from the 1940s and 1950s but a more “gappy” selection from the later years.

To get some idea of his recorded coverage on compact disc have a look at the review of another Skani disc (symphonies 14 and 20) and if you would like to see in detail which symphonies came out on LP then see Mike Herman’s invaluable list of Baltic symphonies. Such a pity that the Campion label’s cycle of the Ivanovs symphonies came to an end after three or four issues in the early 2000s.

Here are two four-movement symphonies, products of the early 1970s. The music is patently seriously-intentioned and each chalks up just over thirty minutes. The Skani notes assure us that Ivanovs was a professor at the Latvian Academy of Music. Ivanovs worked as a sound engineer, later as the artistic director of Latvian Radio (1944–1961). It should be noted that Ivanovs was in the conducting class of Georg Schnéevoigt (famed for his pioneering recording of the Sibelius Sixth Symphony) in 1931 and Jāzeps Vītols’ composition class in 1933.

Ivanovs’ music evolved over the years from nationalist romanticism to a sturdier expressive state. It is tonal-melodic and presents no difficulty to the moderately hardy, exploratory ear. Symphonia Ipsa (‘Symphony of Itself’) breathes the same oxygen-rich air as Simpson and Hindemith with additive rarefied Sibelian overtones.

These two symphonies are said to mark the beginning of a series of late scores which reflect the political atmosphere “during the decline of Leonid Brezhnev”.

The first movement of No. 15 is grave and bleakly lyrical and that carries over to the more urgent second movement (Molto Allegro). The Molto Andante (III) gives way to a pounding pressurised Moderato, Allegro. In fact, ‘Moderato’, ‘Molto’ and ‘Allegro’ are common markings across the four movements.

The Sixteenth Symphony from 1974 opens Moderato, progressing to Allegro Moderato. It is piercing and poignant music that seems to stab into the silence. It is a shade less sombre than the Fifteenth but equally grave. Its celebrations meet anxiety and tension. The second movement (Allegro) might remind you of a Bernard Herrmann film chase with the music taking to its heels into a lively cheerfulness but this lighter sentiment is never unmixed. The Andante Pesante communicates to the listener as a machine-like step-up generator of anxiety. The sturdy finale (Allegro Moderato) is not short on forward motion.

The nicely recorded and well documented disc looks likely (all auguries remaining aligned) to be followed up by Skani within a few years. The next CD will include symphonies 17 and 18 which have not previously had a modern outing.

Rob Barnett

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