Classical Editor: Rob Barnett
Baltic Violin Concertos: by
Sallinen Valdis Zarins/Latvian National Symphony Orchestra/Vassily
Sinaisky Campion Cameo -
Cameo CD 2004
Symphonies 2 and 3 Latvian National SO/Dmitry Yablonsky Marco Polo 8.223331
Symphonies 5 and 12 Latvian National SO/Dmitry Yablonsky Marco Polo 8.223332
JANIS IVANOVS - A COMPOSER WORTH EXPLORING
A REVIEW OF THREE COMPACT DISCS
IVANOVS - WHO IS HE?
Latvian composer. Born 1906 East Latvia. Died Riga 1983. Doyen of Latvian serious music. Style: tuneful and approachable. Usually not bland. Discursive style - at least in works I have heard. Output includes 21 symphonies, concertos for piano, violin, cello, string quartets and piano music. Music much taken up with dreaminess, melancholia and foreboding. Echoes of Sibelius, Bax, Vaughan Williams, Miaskovsky.
IVANOVS Violin Concerto (1951)
This romantic virtuoso concerto is written in language everyone will recognise. This is declared from the very opening bars. There is an occasional Miaskovskian darkness about it but a brilliant light as well. The Tchaikovsky concerto may have been a pattern as also may be the Glazunov. In any event the impact of this music is immediate and winning. The first movement drives forward with a busy moto perpetuo figure with a Sibelian accent. The soloist is adept at colouring and dynamic and he has a wide expressive palette which is used to great effect. The joyous main quicksilver melody in the first movement is hummable. The reflective bit with solo violin occasionally drifts into Rimsky-Korsakovs Sheherazade .. and none the worse for that. I defy you not to smile as the solo violin takes to flight again at 11.00.
The second movement opens with the strings gently intoning its main theme - the gem of the whole work. The solo violinist gently unwinds the theme in front of us and develops it. Falteringly and then with greater confidence the music is changed passing through country dance style variations but without a moment of tweeness. The music is played with great concentration and an attractive inward quality. Waking at 4:40 into further more active country interludes - it is dance that is invoked without preciousness but with open-hearted and unselfconscious joy. The Russian style horns at 6:01 are wonderfully apt here. The movement ends with the violin high in the stratosphere.
The final movement open busily and sounds momentarily like the start of Rachmaninovs Symphony No. 1. The violin is soon in full flight. Again Tchaikovsky comes briefly to mind from time to time. If this movement lacks the substance of the other two it is exciting and has its glowing romantic moments.
If you have enjoyed the Sibelius, Tchaikovsky or Glazunov violin concertos and you have an open mind then you will like this piece. This work inhabits the richly romantic world of the neglected violin concerto. If you have enjoyed the violin concertos by Bax, Moeran, Walton, Barber, Miaskovsky (a brother to the Ivanovs Concerto), De Boeck, Manuel Ponce, Othmar Schoeck and Menotti. The language of this work may be old fashioned but the message is compelling.
The sound quality is rich without a hint of shrillness. The fireworks are impressive but the poetry is what burns the work into the memory. Above all it is that slow movement which will draw you back to play the disc again and again. I can imagine some classical radio station hosts being tempted to play that movement by itself. I hope they do anything to get this work a wider hearing. Most people encountering this concerto for the first time will wonder where on earth to go from here. After all Ivanovs has written rather a lot. However the point is that they will want to explore Ivanovs. I have heard a tape of the old Melodiya LP recording (C-01475-6) of the concerto with the Latvian RSO conducted by Edgars Tons and the soloist Juris Shvolkovskis. This is a game recording and performance but is no match in sound quality for the Campion CD.
The couplings are rewarding. I first came to hear Aulis Sallinen through his impressive First and Third Symphonies. The short (17 minute) Sallinen Violin Concerto (rec 1991) may take more sustained and repeated listening than the Ivanovs but it is an approachable piece in a slightly oblique language. The violinist is fully occupied but the score is rich with myriad orchestral details and highlights. Sometimes this leaves the impression of a rather fragmented piece. The textures and incidents have plenty of action for the percussion and the violence occasionally infects the violin part and once or twice I thought about the William Schuman Violin Concerto. The work has, I believe, also been recorded on a BIS CD although I have not heard that performance. This is an early work in Sallinens history - it dates from 1968.
The Sibelius Violin Concerto (rec 1989) is a respectable bright-eyed performance with much dreamy tenderness on show as well as the customary glittering storms of the solo part. Valdis Zarins and Vassily Sinaisky will not banish memories of the David Oistrakh/Rozhdestvensky disc but anyone coming to know the concerto through this recording is unlikely to be disappointed.
However it is the Ivanovs Concerto which makes this CD special. The rest is a bonus. Our thanks then to Campion, the artists and to Latvijas Radio.
The Campion disc awaits a US distributor. In meantime anyone can order from MORR Music 13 Bank Square, Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 1AN, U.K. by phone (01625 549862) or fax (01625 536101) at 8.99 pounds sterling.
IVANOVS SYMPHONIES 2, 3, 5 and 12
Here on 2 CDs is a sample (leaning towards the 1930s and 40s) of Ivanovs symphonic output. It is perhaps part of a continuing series - it would be nice to know, Marco Polo, so please tell us.
Quite apart from undoubted musical merits the first CD is very valuable for Ivanovs completists. Symphonies 2 and 3 were sadly absent from the otherwise almost complete run of Ivanovs symphonies which were issued on Melodiya LPs in the 60s and 70s. A gap is well and truly filled.
Symphony 2 (1937) announces itself out of the gloom with an urgent forward-moving theme rather like Scriabin in his first symphony. This then shifts into one of those beautiful, long-limbed, subtle, Slavonic tunes that is to recur throughout the movement - a fine inspiration. Upwardly aspiring Russian trumpets cry out to the heavens. The central calm adagio is the longest movement and deploys an epic yearning theme which rises out of the depths on the brass in a number of climactic moments. The theme sounds uncannily like the sort which Constant Lambert wrote for Music for Orchestra and Summers Last Will and Testament but this is a passing impression. The final andante starts with an imposing although slightly vacuous theme on the brass. The performance could perhaps do with a bit more snap and electricity. The last movement is not the equal of the others. The symphony ends with some characteristic Sibelian crashes but not before we hear music which often reminds me of another acolyte of Sibelius - Granville Bantock! There is certainly a Tchaikovskian atmosphere in this symphony but this is more often the Tchaikovsky of the four suites than of the seven symphonies. Altogether a very attractive symphony to put alongside the symphonies by Balakirev, Miaskovsky, Borodin and Scriabin although the last movement is a disappointment.
Symphony 3 (1938) - Again Tchaikovskys shadow is present in this four movement work as is Prokofievs. The horns have that trademark liquid Russian quality and it is used to good effect. There is gentle charm here which reminds me of Rachmaninovs Symphonic Dances. The carolling dialogue between strings and horns at 8:30 is quite magical. The Andante has a gem of a melody which veers towards Rimsky and the Tchaikovsky Manfred symphony. Well worth hearing. Good andantes seem to be an Ivanovs speciality. The Allegro 3rd movement is a brief, colourful Tarantella including skirling piccolo and a Baxian tuba - a gem even if the composer almost catches himself quoting The Firebird at one point. The final moderato again leans on Rimskian sounds. There are also touches of Rachmaninov (third piano concerto). Once again however Ivanovs has difficulty locating a completely convincing ending
Symphony No. 5 (1945) - The symphony opens with a movement which sounds a little like George Lloyd in reflective mood. The second shows the influence of Shostakovich. It soon pitches into a boozy dance. A contemplative interlude momentarily glances in the direction of Vaughan Williams. The third movement is full of energy. The incantatory trumpet passage at 2:39 is notably attractive. A tentative Prokofievian waltz launches out and we find ourselves in some haunted ballroom. A fine adagio unwinds in the manner of Spartacus. The last movement has a big yearning tune alternating with jerky rhythmic passages. The final movement seems rather fragmented.
Symphony No 12 Sinfonia Energica (late 1960s) - This is in a different idiom - dissonant though still basically lyrical. Textures are busy and there is much clashing. The second movement features intense work for the strings. The third movement has a fine flowing feel to it. The finale lapses into all-purpose dissonance. The style is rather monumental with great cliffs of sound jutting high into the air. Comparing 5 and 12 with their previous Melodiya recordings by different artists I had the impression that the Yampolsky performances would have benefited from more intensity.
The recording on these Marco Polos is clear but perhaps a little under-stated - a natural sound.
I do not know what Marco Polo intend but Campion are planning to release a series of Ivanovs orchestral works. They have access to Latvian radio tapes. Their next release is already out. It features his 1941 Symphony No. 4 Atlantida (yes, thats right, the same title as the de Falla cantata) for chorus and orchestra. However dont expect a full-blown choral symphony. The contribution of the chorus (which I have heard in this work previously on the old Melodiya recording D-025011-2) is pretty brief. The role they play is largely as a subtle additional musical instrument. This is from time to time quite an impressionistic score - well worth exploring. On the same disc is the symphonic poem Rainbow. The performances in this series are conducted by Sinaisky who in the early 1990s gave us a fine set of Russian CDs of the Sibelius tone poems. I have been trying to find that set ever since. Anyway it seems that Campion will keep us well plied with Ivanovs over the next few years. Perhaps between Campion and Marco Polo we will get a complete set.
Campion have confirmed that future release will include the lost first symphony!
Summary: Get the Ivanovs Violin Concerto as a priority. Symphonies 2/3 on Marco Polo recommended. Symphonies 5 and 12 for Ivanovs completists! Keep your eyes peeled for future Campions.
Symph 2 & 3
Symph 5 & 12
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