Revelation continue to do good service in issuing recordings from the Russian
state radio archives. Personally I wish they had spent more time on the rarer
or unusual material like this than on 'great performances' though I can
appreciate that "sensible" commercial considerations might seem to preclude
this; which is a pity with such attractive and occasionally compelling works
If you read Gramophone's excellent feature on the USSR symphony of the twentieth
century you will need no beckoning from me to get these discs.
Shostakovich cast a massive artistic shadow in the music of the USSR. However
that "shadow" was filtered, diluted and enriched by many influences not least
the individuality of the composers and of their homelands. For those who
are already growing up with in a world without this giant composite union
it ran in the west from the Baltic states of Estonia and Latvia, Mongolia
and Azerbaijan in the South, Siberia in the North and to the Asian states
of forgetting An heritage outline may be helpful:-
Boiko - Leningrad-born. Clearly in thrall to Tchaikovsky - heard "through
a prism" in his music.
Bunin - Pre-1948 pupil of Shostakovich and it shows.
Gabichvadze - Georgian whose music reflects Berg and Bartok as well as his
homeland's native music.
Parsadanian - An Armenian who moved to Estonia and studied with Heino Eller
but whose 2nd symphony is determinedly Shostakovichian.
Melikov - Azerbaijani who studied under fellow Azerbaijani, Karayev (himself
a Shostakovich pupil) and whose second symphony is dedicated to Shostakovich.
The first volume in this series was devoted to violin concertos and has already
been reviewed. These two (only available separately)
have conducting duties shared between Evgeny Svetlanov (who clearly relishes
the Boiko) and Gennadi Rozhdestvensky. The orchestras are various brands
of State Symphony Orchestra. The recordings (not identified as mono or stereo)
span 1968-1989. The earliest is the Parsadanian; the latest, Gabichvadze.
John Kehoe's notes are as usual fine and informative although I would have
liked a few signposts to other works by these composers and there is space
on the leaflet. This might have whetted our appetites for later volumes.
A number of companies have gone in for material of this type. Olympia has
done much for many Russian composers and was early in the field if we ignore
EMI-Melodiya. Now we have Russian Disc (about which I had heard worrying
rumours) and Melodiya itself. In any event these two Revelations currently
have the field to themselves.
Boiko Symphony No 2 (1978) This is a gem and the outstanding discovery
of these discs. If Bunin is a Shostakovich acolyte and Gabichvadze leans
on a mix of Bartok and the exotic, this work by Boiko is deeply romantic.
It could easily have been written by Tchaikovsky had he lived a double life-time.
There are also elements of Rachmaninov in this too. Svetlanov gives it a
performance to match the high romance references I have mentioned. This is
very accessible stuff and not a straight shadow of Tchaik and Rach. Boiko
is perhaps the counterpart of George Lloyd in Russia. He can wear his heart
on his sleeve without shame and with conviction. This is the second of three
symphonies. I would like very much to hear the others and any other orchestral
works of his. What else is available?
Bunin Symphony No 6 (1966). Bunin was a Shostakovich pupil in thrall
to his teacher's style. This comes over quite powerfully. This is one of
nine symphonies. It would be interesting to know what others think of the
other symphonies. The first movement is very busy and at times commanding.
The second piacevole movement is a strange confection. A wailing saxophone,
snarling brass and a boiling climax all seem distinctly unpeaceful. Disquiet
haunts this movement like a grinning skull. There is more disquiet here than
calm. The third movement allegro molto skitters and scurries with much colour.
Bunin produces some startling textural variety. The tinkling and clicking
of this movement recalls Shostakovich 15 but of course predates it. The final
adagio is a wonderful conception - exotic and passionate pushed forward by
a heart-beat. A great brass chorale rears up noble and sad and again that
saxophone sings discreetly. Heart-beat and clock ticking wind in and out
of each other. The piece ends quietly - rather inconclusively. It is interesting
to note that Bunin was criticised for formalism in 1948 at the same time
as his teacher. Bunin then lost his teaching post. Bunin experimented with
serialism but this is not to the fore in the symphony. Bunin is the only
composer of the five who is no longer alive.
Gabichvadze Symphony for strings, piano and timpani (1963) The first
(of five) movement is tense and sombre in a nocturnal Bartokian idiom relieved
by at least one tender melody on the solo violin. The second movement is
sabre-sharp and fleet of foot in a Shostakovichian way. Lyrical ideas which
dance out of this cutting whirlwind are more reminiscent of Prokofiev. The
solo piano can be heard in movements 2 and 5 rather distantly in this recording.
There is then a pivotal ardently romantic 6 minute adagio which is almost
Hollywoodian in a Herrmann way. This is followed by two brightly effective
miniatures lasting no more than five minutes together. While rich in incident
I am far from sure about this as a symphony - more a suite than anything
else. Gabichvadze broke new ground in Georgian music with this symphony but
for all of its Bergian credentials it does not forget the innate lyricism
of the republic. Gabichvadze was entirely a product of the Tbilisi conservatory.
Parsadanian Symphony No 2 Martinos Sarian (1968) The Sarian
of the title is an Armenian painter. The symphony's connection with the painter
is not described in John Kehoe's notes. This is a big work in every sense,
running close to 45 mins; epic, sorrowing and passionate both in loving and
in conflict. The language is very strongly out of Shostakovich's palette.
Parsadanian was an Armenian who became an important figure in Estonia. This
is an interesting complement to the position of the Estonian symphonist Eduard
Tubin who became a world figure only after moving to Sweden.
His symphony is conducted by the always reliable Svetlanov whose reputation
increases for me every time I hear a new recording of his, especially in
the rarer repertoire - not once do you think that his performances are
time-serving. From the commanding opening maestoso first movement with its
strong brass figure, to the gentler intermezzo, the long-breathed Lento and
the intense and finally meditative finale (strangely it is marked allegro
con fuoco!) you are never in doubt of Parsadanian's serious intentions or
Melikov Symphony No 2 (1971?) This is dedicated to Shostakovich. It
is not however, a clone Dmitri-symphony. It is in six movements. The ideas
are often atonal and any sense of nationality is absent. The music is written
in the universal colouring box of the avant-garde of the fifties and sixties.
The recording is taken from a live or studio performance complete with audience.
There is the occasional cough but nothing too disturbing. No applause - nor
is there on either of the two discs.
When a friend mentioned that this repertoire had been previously issued (can
anyone provide details?) I wondered about the provenance of the recordings.
Are they from Russian radio archives?
Whatever their background the present CDs are treasurable and unusual. Their
cost is modest (at least in the UK) and the works belong in any collection
of 20th century symphonic music. The Parsadanian and Boiko works are highlights.
More please Revelation.