SYMPHONY NO. 2 (rec 10 March 1986) This is one of his big muscular
works. It has never previously been recorded commercially. The three movements
run to three quarters of an hour. The first is Tchaikovskian and opens darkly
but before long one of Miaskovskys vital cantering figures asserts
itself and returns throughout the movement to drive it forward. Trumpets
and horns bray outrageously (and gloriously) and if I mention Scriabins
symphonies, Rachmaninov and Tchaikovskys Francesca da Rimini and
Symphony No. 5 it is only to give you a few reference points. The ascent
and scream of despairing pain from the trumpets in the closing bars is
The second movement is quieter and has a gentle line in faltering lyricism
and bel canto. From 7:30 on Track 2 the Russian brass exult in a passage
of despairing intensity. The mood is very concentrated and the instrumental
lines are beautifully delineated. The movement may well be a few minutes
longer than it ought to be but everything is lovingly done. A strange British
echo is to be found in the gentle woodwind theme which seems to be about
to collapse into Deliuss Hassan music.
The last movement seems about to launch a fugue but soon returns us to the
world of heaven-vaulting desperate Scriabinesque climaxes. An angular theme
darts back and forward. Trumpets call piercingly and fortissimo from craggy
heights. The orchestra seem to have this intense tempestuous music in their
bones. Not for once is there any suspicion that this is a time-serving catalogue
filling exercise. Another British work came to mind this time: the cataclysmic
Bax Second Symphony dating from the early 1920s. At 3:00 (Track 3) there
is a theme which will make us wonder how well Khachaturyan knew this symphony
at the time he was writing the famous Spartacus adagio. If we are hyper-critical
the movement may again go on for longer than its material justifies but it
does so gloriously and with no lack of confidence. The ending is perhaps
rather perfunctory given all that has gone before.
The precision and unanimity of attack is remarkable in this performance by
the State Symphony Orchestra of the Ministry of Culture conducted by the
bright-eyed Gennadi Rozhdestvensky. The recording has great depth and amplitude.
SYMPHONY NO. 22 (rec 2 May 1970) This is in a single track of 35:22.
Out of primeval depths arises a lightning strike attack by the cascading
strings singing briefly a theme reminiscent of Rachmaninovs third piano
concerto. Once again Miaskovsky comes up with one of those cantering open
air tunes - this time with something approaching urbanity. We have to remind
ourselves that this work was written during the USSRs Great Patriotic
War against Hitler. At 3:40 (track 4) a great theme of nostalgic moment appears.
Miaskovsky is a master of subtle emotion. Little wonder if Laras theme
from Dr Zhivago might well have been inspired by it. The theme returns
on solo French horn at 7:00. Svetlanov is something of a Miaskovsky specialist.
Listen to the way he paces and accents the gently shuddering progression
of the big theme at 9:11. Sheer magic. The following Largo is a miracle of
mood-concentration. The strings develop great tension from 20:00 to 23:00
when the braying brass carol over the strings in a moment which recalls moments
in the finale of the Moeran symphony. We are held over the chasm again at
24:02 with brassy Mussorgskian grandeur. A quiet fanfare at 26:04 sounds
remarkably Baxian leading into a clattery iron-clad decisive march with a
warlike oil-stained and cordite-smoking edge. The pizzicato episodes remind
me of Rachmaninovs Symphonic Dances which date from exactly the same
year. The raucous march returns topped off with Baxian fanfares. Whirling
strings provide a bed for the high trumpets and deeper brass. The trumpets
hold the nostalgic theme high up to the sun in glorious but grieving victory.
All subsides into an epilogue before shuddering strings and celebratory brass
and drums toll out the end of this fascinating work. I wondered about the
provenance of this recording. I suspect this was previously issued by EMI
during the early 1970s.
If you have tried Glazunov and found him rather loose and undemonstrative
then give these two symphonies a try. The disc is generously full. At 79:51
it could hardly be more so. Certainly I cannot imagine you having a better
introduction. Those looking for a what-next experience after having ransacked
Tchaikovskys lockers need look no further. These are not time-server
performances. They are projected by musicians who take the music seriously
and play it in deadly earnest and without hint of apology.
PS Now I want to hear the missing Symphonies: 4, 13, 14, 18,
20, 24 and 26. So come on Revelation - surely these tapes exist in some dark
corner of the Russian Radio vaults? I have never heard any of these in any
form. There were rumours about a complete cycle from Rozhdestvensky but nothing
seems to have come of this. Any news? Did Mravinsky perform or record any
of the Miaskovsky symphonies? Does anyone have any information on this? Are
these symphonies played in Russia these days?