Shebalin, the Siberian composer, pupil of Miaskovsky and teacher of
Denisov and Gubaidulina among many others, wrote five symphonies. Olympia
have all five in their catalogue.
The 1941 Russian Overture is stridently earnest and triumphant without being
unduly garish. Borodin and Arensky are constant influences without in any
way dimming Shebalin's individuality which is also characterised by a special
way with the strings. The brass writing in the overture recalls that in
Miaskovsky's early symphonies; that special blend of Scriabin-like
mountain-scaling ecstasy and tragedy in victory. The bell-like peroration
(10:49) is very effective and uplifting.
From 1929 comes the brief two movement second symphony from a Knussen-aged
composer. The work is busy and goes off in many directions questing and probing.
The piano adds to the orchestral colours. Everything is pretty serious and
there is little in the of jocular work for any part of the orchetsra. The
occasionally vinegary lyricism and constant striving remind me of the work
of Alan Rawsthorne during the 1940s. Although Borodin and Mussorgsky are
mentioned as influences in Per Skans typically excellent (English only) notes
(6pp) this is not a straightforwardly tuneful piece. It is not in any sense
a counterpart of the immediately charming Sinfonietta (1949) nor is it out
of the same genie bottle as the two winning concertinos (1929-32). It ends
impressively in a spidery filigree of sound. The second movement is forward
pushing. Moment comes and go quickly. Clouds gather and dominate the skyline
momentarily. They are broken apart by the wind and new clouds and shapes
form. Sunsets and sunrises succeed each other each with new shapes and colours.
Listen to the sweet carolling repose to be found at 6:00-7:40. This is succeeded
by a ghostly world of etiolated charm glimpsed in an old mirror - all conju../graphics/red
up by the strings.
Miaskovsky is able to invoke the same magic as also is Bax in his farewells
to the world of mortals. The work ends in inexorably climbing celebration.
The fourth symphony was written 15 years after the event refer../graphics/red to in its
subtitle. The battle of Perekop was a important morale miledstone in the
Russian civil war. The defeat of a numerically overwhelming force of White
Russians by the Reds won for the Soviet Union the whole of the Crimean peninsula.
The first of the movements opens subdued and serious - almost an elegy for
those Red soldiers fallen in the victory. The elegiac feel touches more bases
with Miaskovsky than Hindemith (pace Per Skans' notes). Elegy gives way to
increasing tension as if keyed up for battle and the occasional stormy brass
onslaught may suggest the first skirmishes (8:10). However elegies are never
far away and they are finely sustained by Skripka and his orchestra occasionally
pre-echoing Khachaturyan in Spartacus (9:03). The heroism is wonderfully
caught and held up to the sun from 11:10 to almost the end of the first movement
which finally fades back into autumnal gold.
The second movement is clangs along with serious mien sounding a little like
Shostakovich. Elegies and thin high strings weave to and fro but from this
emerges a soldier's hymn on flutes and this develops a strong stride (3:10)
spur../graphics/red by trumpet-calls, stentorian horns (4:03) and bellowing trombones.
A dangerously banner waving march appears at 10:00 and the colours are suddnenly
bright, chins are firmly set and heroic stances are struck but despite the
caricaturing the music has a breathing life winningly projected. The march
fades into a surging finale capturing the heights. That final swelling, spreading
and receding climax is not fully convincing but glows satisfyingly.
This disc is recommended warmly. Olympia discs are sold at mid-price. They
are well worth exploring. You are unlikely to feel cheated. However pushed
into choosing between the concertinos disc and this one I would marginally
favour the former. Then again you would miss the glories of the symphonies
and the Russian Overture.
You should note that there is also an Olympia CD of Symphonies 1 and 3 (OCD577).