It’s rather fascinating to listen to an ambitious Symphony – it lasts forty-five minutes here – and not find too much of interest, and then listen again in case anything was missed. Yet Ukrainian composer Boris Lyatoshynsky (1895-1968), a pupil of Glière and himself a teacher in Kiev for many years, and also of orchestration at the Moscow Conservatory, must have believed he was on to something with this the Third (1951) of his five Symphonies; it’s nickname, ‘Peace shall defeat War’ gives a big clue as to its musical nature.
The work opens with dramatic brass, a gnarled fanfare, followed by a forlorn melody on cor anglais, oppression is suggested before an Allegro impetuoso gets into its stride (this first movement is full of tempo changes), music of cinematic vividness – struggle against aggressors sort of thing, violence and lament. The Symphony was deemed “anti-Soviet” – and in terms of emotion and situation the music works well-enough save it is short on distinction on its own terms and structurally diffuse. The slow movement, almost as long as the quarter-hour first, has nine changes of tempo, opening Andante con moto, offers some tranquillity and soulful expression, aspiring to radiance until pensive and obsessive militaristic music takes the upper hand and then the consoling opening returns.
The following Scherzo begins hectically and forcefully, with lyrical contrasts, more shadowy and striving than the “savage” of the booklet note, although it can be driving and dynamic – this is a chameleon-like movement that peters out. For political reasons Lyatoshynsky re-wrote the Finale, but it’s the original that Kirill Karabits chooses. Difficult to understand why it even raised eyebrows at the time, let alone criticism more severe: this is optimistic, bright-eyed music, which has claims to be the best part of this Symphony, chorales and coruscation, the affirmative ending built towards with marching-band confidence, flags waving, bells pealing, the nation stirred to hope; maybe it was heard as signalling Ukrainian independence.
There may be reservations about this work as a whole but none about the performance, dedicated and honed, although the venue once again spurs doubts; details clear, yes, but too reverberant an acoustic and the orchestra rather distant within it. The revised Finale is published as an appendix to the critical edition (2015) so it seems a shame to not have this included too, for the record.
Grazhyna (1955) was composed as a tribute to writer Adam Mickiewicz on the centenary of his death; he is regarded as one of Poland’s greatest poets and essayists. Grazhyna (1822) describes the “heroism of [a] mythical Lithuanian noblewoman in the face of the invading forces of the Order of the Teutonic Knights.” Musically, it’s an impressive piece, the opening of haunting beauty, a gently flowing river suggested in the strings and with a melancholy melody on cor anglais, Grazhyna herself, married to a prince. Not surprisingly, conflict is central to the narrative; the brave Grazhyna perishes, though, strengthening the resolve of the Lithuanians. This is graphic music serving itself and the story well, and certainly worth getting to know.