I cannot over-praise Campion for their endeavour and enterprise in recording
the orchestral works of the Latvian composer Janis Ivanovs. Amongst much
else Ivanovs wrote 21 symphonies and a number of concertos. If you
have not heard his melodically inventive and 'fresh as a daisy' Violin Concerto
do yourself a major favour and buy Cameo 2004 now. His music (especially
during the period 1930s through to early 1950s) is resolutely tonal. It breathes
There have already been two Marco Polo CDs of the early symphonies but No
4 was not amongst these and in any event, though the performances were c../graphics/reditable
and the recording quality fine, there was room for improvement in the zest
given to the music.
The disc proclaims itself as Volume 3. Presumably the violin concerto disc
is volume 1. Volume 2 will almost certainly include the first symphony (the
score for which was reportedly lost) alongside the other early symphonies.
Ivanovs Rainbow (Symphonic Poem) in D Major dates from 1939. It is
a grandiloquent miniature sketch of wispy impressionism: harp figures, woodwind
solos and a restrained enchantment. Its style is an amalgam of the French
school leaning toweards Ravel and the Russian romantics: early Stravinsky,
Rimsky (Sadko), Kachaturyan and perhaps Glazunov in his lighter textu../graphics/red
style. It reminded me also of Bax's Spring Fire. At 5:40 a gloriously
wallowy melody arches higher and higher. The solo violin at 8:00 is touchingly
done. Ultimately the piece lacks shapeliness and at least one of the climaxes
sounds contrived rather than convincing. That said there is much to enjoy
here and little to demean. A rather lovely little essay. The recording dates
from 1975 and is afflicted with some distant hiss.
The Fourth symphony dates from two years later and the war years. Dubbed
Atlantis by the composer it was first conceived as a scenic multi-media work
with dance, pantomime, theatre and special lighting.
It opens Sphinx-like - gazing sombrely into the chasm. The movement is entitled
Ira Dei Legenda (The Message of Plato). The music is rather like the
darker episodes in Tchaikovsky's Manf../graphics/red Symphony with dashes of Scriabin
and early Miaskovsky (symphonies 1-3). At 3:48 a tune shambles in and along
like something from Shostakovich. This soon boils towards a restrained climax
which is held in reserve. There is a forbidding obsidian edge to the proceedings
(especially from 10:12 to the end) which many will find utterly compelling.
A saxophone puts in a surprising appearance at 10:11 and also ushers the
movement to a close. Its swipes at slivers of the movement's tune are soon
taken up by other instruments. There is even a tolling bell.
The second movement (Poseidon - Papylon - capital of Atlantis) opens
with material from the first movement in impressionistic mood underlined
by a female chorus. Their contribution is slightly Delian even recalling
Warlock in Corpus Christi. The cor anglais solo at 5:00 sounds distinctly
like Vaughan Williams but the strongest influence is Miaskovsky. I am sure
that during Ivanovs' conducting years (1933-1944) he must have directed
Miaskovsky's symphonies. At 8:00 we hear a characteristically defiant trumpet
signature which could easily have come from Miaskovsky.
The third movement (Aedes Sacra - religious ceremonies) is the shortest
of the three. It is vigorous and opens with a strident and distinctively
rough incantatory trumpet call - the same heard in the previous movement.
This is repeated by horns and trombones. Tempestuous clarinet and flute solos
drive things along. A desolate serenade with a harp descending figure (4:40)
repeated under woodwind solos is one of the highlights of the piece continued
by a romantically ripe solo trumpet. A great horn section chant also stands
high in this movement (8:54).
The final movement has as a superscription: "On a dreadful day, On a dreadful
night, The Island of Atlantis disappea../graphics/red, drowned in the sea." (Plato)
The great country and its city are gone. The depths of the ocean fall asleep
and "... only the wind wails over a desert of waves for thousands of years."
Its darkness seems occasionally to come from Bax a composer whose music Ivanovs
would not have known. The last movement overall has a chilling and forward
thrusting power with a sense of victory borne high on stormclouds.
The Russian-toned French horns sound exactly the bon mot for this music.
The Riga Orchestra (Latvian NSO) has this music under its fingertips and
in its sinews. As for the conductor Vassily Sinaisky (whose Russian Season
recording of the Sibelius tone poems is very much under-valued) is committed
to Ivanovs in the most practical way and has directed his music for many
years. Perhaps broadcasting organisations and orchestral managements will
surprise and delight us by allowing him to conduct some Ivanovs in the future.
Neeme Jarvi 'made' Tubin's reputation an international one. I am sure that
Sinaisky could do the same for Ivanovs. My only criticism would be that I
suspect that the symphony would gain from a little more urgency. I am not
familiar with the score and although there has been a previous Melodiya LP
recording there is nothing you could call an international performing tradition.
Ivanovs is another example of a fine composer of Baltic stock whose music
just has not travelled. It used to be said the Vaughan Williams' music did
not travel. It has now defied that adventitiously imposed limit. If we are
prepa../graphics/red for adventure (and reward) we will be open to Ivanovs' strangely
haunted music. We will soon happily count works such as these two orchestral
essays as minor treasures of the repertoire. I urge you to try this disc
which I recommend. I strongly recommend the Violin Concerto which has everything
and like Sleeping Beauty lies unrecognised.