Symphony No.2 in B flat minor, Op.66
Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France
Recorded live on 27 November 1998, Salle Pleyel, Paris
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: May 2004
CD No: NAÏVE V 4974
What an intriguing symphony this is. Completed in 1917 but not heard until 1951 (under Evgeny Svetlanov), it’s a four-movement work that lasts (here) over an hour and which couldn’t have a better advocate than the late Svetlanov. No doubt he recorded this symphony for Melodiya; whether he did or didn’t, this is a superb performance, thoroughly rehearsed, and played with a conviction to match Svetlanov’s belief in the work.
The big first movement, nearly 24 minutes, begins darkly, feeling its way (rather reminding of the opening of Liszt’s A Faust Symphony), and goes on to embrace numerous mood-swings; some tripping and now-brighter episodes are particularly appealing, as is some long-breathed lyricism reminiscent of Tchaikovsky.
Sergei Liapunov (1859-1924) studied in Moscow and worked in St Petersburg (he died in Paris). He helped collect folksongs, and this symphony’s scherzo certainly has a swinging, nationalistic stamp. The slow movement, elegiac and touching, is in some respects the symphony’s heart, and Svetlanov gives it spacious and loving treatment. The finale has the most imperialistic touches (even more nostalgic given the Revolution-year Liapunov composed it) and is, maybe, the least well sustained and diverse movement; yet the references, surely, to Borodin’s popular Symphony No. 2, and what sounds a quotation from the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, bring a sense of identity that ultimately binds and places this work.
The recording is excellent, although the brass can be a tad prominent and raucous – but that is the Russian tradition, which maybe Svetlanov wanted recreated (and this work is central, albeit retrospectively, to Russian symphonic output) – and there are many moments of intimate moments and scoring. A fine work, then, and a real discovery for anyone not already familiar with it – and this concentrated rendition (seemingly unedited from the concert) digs deep into its potential to bring something rewarding. The grandstand conclusion brings the house down. The notes include a revealing one from Svetlanov himself concerning his dismissal from the Russian State Orchestra.