Symphony No.2 in B flat minor, Op.8
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra conducted by Neeme Jarvi
Reviewed by: Bob Hazeldine
Reviewed: March 2002
CD No: DG 471 198-2
Maximilian Steinberg, born in Vilnius in 1883, counted Liadov, Glazunov and Rimsky-Korsakov among his teachers. He died in 1946. His First Symphony, already recorded by Jarvi on DG 457 607-2, proved a pleasing discovery. No.2, a concentrated three-movement piece, is an energetic and bold symphonic essay, full of colour, declamation and melodic weight. Jarvi’s purposeful conducting makes a strong case for it, not least in the shadowy introduction to the last movement and in his lucid revealing of Steinberg’s imaginative orchestration.
In this he is aided by the spacious acoustic that enhances the music’s impression and gives depth to the full scoring; although it is not ideally revealing of the music’s inner parts, and climaxes can be a little congested, there’s plenty of impact and climaxes expand gloriously. The orchestra seems slightly more distant in the symphony’s last movement. The bass line is sonorous and clear, and there is an attractive glow to the overall sound-picture.
The rhythmic propulsion throughout the symphony’s three movements is particularly engaging. The introspective middle section of the second movement ’Scherzo’ is not only eerie, it also brings intimations of Rachmaninov’s First Symphony which Steinberg might have heard, aged 14, at the controversial first performance conducted by Glazunov, drunk … allegedly. Steinberg’s Second Symphony is an intriguingly intense and contrasted work.
The 15-minute set of Variations on a familiar Russian tune, one of those improvisations that several composers seem to have used for one purpose or another, finds Steinberg being rather formal in his commentary on the ditty. If a little foursquare overall, the Variations are decorously scored with some graceful expression. The final section is the most ambitious and reminds of Borodin.