I have known Eshpai's attractive music ever since hearing tapes of various
Melodiya LPs back in the 1970s. His first three symphonies are compellingly
attractive works in a nationalistic accessible style. He is the composer
of seven symphonies and many concertos. Even so he has not made the progress
made by many of his 'compatriots' including Terteryan, Silvestrov and Boiko.
His Mari Dances are very romantic. They amount to an overture in sections.
The first section starts with one of those long uncomplicated melodies of
the Russian steppes characteristic of Rimsky in Antar. It rises in
splendid string carillon towards more complex tonalities. These are never
strained. In fact the music rather sounds as if John Williams might have
been listening to Eshpai. Towards the end there is an atmospheric 'whistling'
solo violin and then (6.28) a buzz-saw wasp flight of a scherzo dashes in.
The bounce and élan reminds me of Khachaturyan but this impression
soon decays into the mood of the first section where the tune (implying great
lonely distances) is intoned by the cor anglais. The tune is of some stature:
robust and long-limbed, rising in passion over barking brass.
The very recent violin concerto is spikily Bartokian; full of darkly tossing
and turning energy. Insect clouds alternate with flaming landslides of sound.
Strenuous fireworks, hoarse violin figures and a quietly threnodic contemplation
are all there. This is a pocket concerto like the Knipper and Rakov concertos
but it is a tougher nut to crack than either of those pieces. The final section
is jazzy and resembles, in spirit, Bernstein's Candide overture. This
is a live performance complete with applause and surprisingly few coughs.
The second symphony at first comes over as a concerto grosso complete with
neo-classical 'jerkiness'. The sound world is not at all abstemious, adopting
a Goossens-like 'big band' approach. There are dashes of Shostakovich-like
gutsiness in there. At 3.35 the tender middle section conjures visions of
emerald green and white-flecked depths. Hansonian brass writing intermittently
stalks the pages. The symphony is in two tracks. The second track begins
with the balalaika (oddly like The Godfather theme): sentimental stuff.
This is a clock-slowing meditation rising at 4.20 and taking up the theme.
This then gives way to a pizzicato string episode (5:53) clearly inspired
by Britten's Simple Symphony. At 8.08 the balalaika returns but with
the addition of the high harmonics of a solo violin (Pettersson 7). The symphony
ends with somehow congruous Hispanic stateliness. The second symphony was
highly regarded by Kodaly.
The liner notes are principally by Victor Ledin. Alla Bogdanova and Dmitri
Ukhov also contribute. The notes (7pp) are in English only.
The playing time seems rather short, though the repertoire is precious.
No-one who loves the modern Russian romantics will want to miss this disc.
If you enjoy this then try the other Eshpai symphonies when they come out
from Albany. Also do try to track down Rostislav Boiko's symphony No. 2 and
Valentin Silvestrov's Symphony No. 5.
A warm welcome for this rather special Albany disc.
The following note is from Albany USA:-
"Sooner or later we will release all the major orchestral works and it is
difficult to give ... a timetable because of the logistics of working
long distance between here and Russia. The next volume will include: Flute
Concerto; Songs of the Meadow & Mountain Mari; Double Bass Concerto;
and Symphony No. 1."