Vissarion Shebalin is little known and that we van hear so many works by
him is down to the little trumpeted enterprise of Olympia. Their catalogue
is varied and has much to appeal to the searcher after rare symphonic music.
At one time it had many old friends from the Melodiya catalogue but those
releases seem to have been deleted as licensing arrangements came to an end.
To replace them we now have many new recordings and rarer birds from the
neglected depths of the Melodiya catalogue. Best of all though are Olympia's
commissioning of new recordings to fill in gaps in the Melodiya and Russian
Radio archives. Thus they have commissioned recordings of Shebalin's second
and fourth symphonies to fit around symphonies 1, 3 and 5 which have been
recorded previously or of which radio tapes existed and all of which are
in the Olympia catalogue. The only mystery is why they have not recorded
the missing Miaskovsky symphonies especially numbers 2 and 14. In any event
let us return to Shebalin.
Shebalin (pronounced shebal-een - with the emphasis on the last syllable)
was born in Omsk in Siberia. As a student at the Moscow conservatory his
teacher for composition was Miaskovsky. He became a leading teacher at the
Moscow conservatory numbering among his pupils Tikhon Khrennikhov, Veljo
Tormis, Edison Denisov and Sofia Gubaidulina. As director of the conservatory
have achieved the highest standing in Russian musical academic life but in
1948 his music was condemned as formalist by his own pupil Khrennikhov and
he was removed from the directorship. In 1953 he lost the use of his left
hand but continued to compose righthanded.
Concertino Violin and orchestra Op 14 No 1 (1931-2) 10:18
Boris Shulgin (violin)
USSR Academic SO Orch Ensemble Gennady Provatorov
stereo rec Moscow 1978
This is characteristic of the genre represented by the violin concerto by
Rakov and others: a cool romanticism and burgeoning melodious talent. Russia
seems to have a tradition of pocket violin concertos. This one is in three
movements; each taking less than 4 minutes. There is a neo-classicism in
the first movement which recalls the Holst Double Concerto and RVWs
However the dessicated language of neo-classicism is never allowed complete
thrall. The music has an essential irresistible lyricism.
The final movement is jolly and undemanding.
Concertino for horn and orchestra Op 14 No 2 (1930) 12:16
Boris Afanasiev (horn)
USSR R&TV SO / Nikolai Anosov
(stereo rec 1962)
Once again there is a certain coolness. The language is slightly more astringent
than the preceding violin work. The first movement has a fugitive feeling:
a slightly hunted sense. The Russian horn has an fruitily unexpurgated tone
which delivers heroism, jauntiness, magic and a final rough impatient gesture.
The second movement limns in the strings wavelets gently lapping the side
of a lake. The horn sings gently over them. This is a lovely and loving moment
with much Baxian or Debussian material at 1:03. This is surely meant to summon
up images of a Summer afternoon. Then follow darker plangent green depths
at 2:02. The finale is brusquely ruthless, Prokofiev-like with generous helpings
of dash and lash. All ends in a Korngoldian flourish.
Each of these movements end well Why are these concertos not played by our
Young Musicians Of The Year, never mind the great names of our day?
Sinfonietta of Russian Folk Themes Op 43 (1949-51) 17:10
USSR R&TV SO/Alexander Gauk 1954 (rec mono rec 1954)
This begins like Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov. The sound is veteran and the
strings sound thinnish. A great stamping theme epic is mixed with a warm
Russian folksong like a survivor from Borodins second symphony or
Rimskys Antar. We even get an aural glimpse of RVW at 3:21 at the end
of the first movement. The second movement deploys woodwind in Finzian cantabile
over a pizzicato accompaniment. This is develops into a devout ecclesiastical
procession, serious but with an eye for natural beauty. This last element
soon rears up into a great burgeoning passion. The movement is full of the
most imaginative constructs. The third movement is a fast folk dance for
strings touched in with a tune which is almost (but not quite) We Three Kings.
Warlock and Holst and RVW also De Falla are all recalled consciously or
otherwise. This is I suppose rather old-fashioned but what does time and
chronology matter in face of such entertaining music. The finale takes us
again to the massed string writing of RVW (Concerto Grosso or Partita) but
is not as successful as the other three.
Symphony No 5 Op 56 (1962) 30:19
USSR State SO/Yevgeny Svetlanov
mono rec live Moscow 1963
This is as vivid as you would expect from anything conducted by Svetlanov
enhanced by the event of a live recording. The Andante allegro has live coughs
accompanying slatey grey clarinet musings beginning in darkest mystery like
Tchaikovsky 5. The work was written at the end of Shebalins career
and life. After this subdued start a theme launches briskly on strings rather
like a Russian Tippett (listen for echoes of the Concerto for Double String
orchesta). Shebalin is rather good at string textures and this soon boils
into activity for the full orchestra. Shebalin sounds something like Boiko
in his Tchaikovskian accents of the first movement.
The second movement is a bleakly friendly Lento. There is an infinitely sad
Miaskovskian lullaby and some challenging string writing. A miniature dance
in sunlight for oboe and then clarinet comes forward and the whole orchestra
take up a tramping Borodin-like dance. There is climax for full orchestra
at high intensity with horns topping the moment off in glorious abandon -
almost Hollywood in its freedom.
The third movement is a short (3:02) allegro con fuoco glinting, twisting
and turning; stamping, furious, sparking and flinty. This is a happy brightly
toned whirling picture.
The finale continues the strata defined by the third movement. There is a
good strong theme asserted at 00:49: a long winding theme punctuated by a
stuttering horn. There are raucous trumpets (2:02) and RVW-like stuttering
which dissipates into an extended episode for the strings gently settling
into peaceful perpetual dusk. Sheblain will not allow himself an easy colourful
or heroic ending.
The symphony was dedicated to Miaskovsky and is fully worthy of the master's
name. Coughing provides an aleatoric counterpoint to all the movements but
it is no real distraction and is preferable to the processed feel of so many
recordings. Here is a real concert experience.
© Rob Barnett