Myaskovsky: Complete Symphonic Works (part 2)

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Volume 6

Symphony No.6 in E flat minor, Op.23
Pathétique Overture in C minor, Op.76



Volume 7

Symphony No.7 in B minor, Op.24
Symphony No.26 in C, Op.79



Russian Federation Academic Symphony Orchestra conducted by Evgeny Svetlanov

Recorded in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory between 1991-1993

Symphony No.6 in E flat minor, Op.23

Gothenburg Symphony Chorus, Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra conducted by Neeme Järvi

DG 471 655-2


Recorded August 1998, Konserthuset, Gothenburg

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: July 2002
CD No: OLYMPIA OCD 736 & See below

The cycle of Myaskovsky symphonic works, recorded by Evgeny Svetlanov mainly between 1991 and ’93, has taken on added significance with the death of the conductor in May [see elsewhere for a review of what became the Philharmonia Orchestra’s tribute concert, and a Svetlanov obituary]. Looking back over Svetlanov’s extensive and wide-ranging discography, it seems likely that his Myaskovsky traversal will take pride of place among his major projects, and Olympia deserves renewed thanks for making it available to the wider listening public.

OCD 736: In its ample but clearly defined proportions, the Sixth Symphony (1921-3) is a summing-up of Myaskovsky’s idiom over a decade of cultural upheaval. Almost all its thematic elements derive from the ascending motif heard at the opening: a ’motto’ in the lineage of Tchaikovsky Four and Rachmaninov Two. The work has long been known through an intense 1963 recording by Kyril Kondrashin – which, to be honest, Svetlanov does not quite equal. Tempi here are well chosen, though the opening movement could do with greater definition between its agitated and expressive main themes. The twilit ’Scherzo’ is delicately handled, but contrast with the pastoral lyricism of the ’Trio’ feels muted. The ’Andante’ has passion, yet risks diffusiveness at too sustained a pace, while the combination of near kitsch and intended pathos in the ’Finale’ lacks a cumulative sense of apotheosis; not helped by omitting the ad lib choral contribution which ushers in the long, redemptive coda.

The Pathétique Overture (1947) is a welcome bonus. Myaskovsky’s attempt to construct a festive commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the October Revolution never escapes from the shadow of its brooding introduction. There’s no doubting the resource or craftsmanship of the end result, but the failure of the piece to placate the Soviet hierarchy of the day was sadly inevitable.

Myaskovsky on OlympiaCoincidentally, Symphony No.6 has just appeared in a recording by Neeme Järvi. Järvi is a natural in the late-Romantic symphonic repertoire, and guides the work with a firm but never inflexible hand. In the first movement, his slightly longer duration allows for greater thematic contrast – leading to a truly climactic development and a more resigned coda. The fugitive ’Scherzo’ is kept on a tight rein, Järvi bringing greater radiance to the ’Trio’ – while his noticeably faster tempo and limpid phrasing in the ’Adagio’ ensures that its pathos never feels bogged-down. Come the ’Finale’, and Järvi rightly emphasises the uneasy central section – with its references to the “Dies irae” and the sacred chant “Of the Separation of the Soul from the Body”. Unlike Svetlanov, Järvi includes the choral contribution – subtly intensifying the music as it ascends in heartfelt repose. Excellently recorded, this is the choice for those looking to acquire just the Sixth Symphony for their collection.

OCD 737: Composition of the Seventh Symphony (1921-2) overlaps with that of the Sixth – though in terms of form and content, the two works could not be more different. No.7 is very much a Modernist symphony; its two movements fusing almost imperceptibly to create a four-part (slow-fast-slow-fast) format. The harmonic complexity of the opening finds Scriabin’s legacy put to bold and innovative use, with the faster sections anticipating the rhythmic dynamism of Gavriil Popov’s infamous First Symphony a decade on. The flexible, though never amorphous trajectory admits of both breadth and concision, with a motivic profile easy to follow on an initial hearing. Symphony No.7 is a sure highlight of the Myaskovsky canon, with a committed and keenly focused performance to match.

Symphony No.26 (1948) is a reaction to strictures levelled in the notorious ’Zhdanov decree’, and it is to his credit that if the composer aimed at writing a model Socialist Realist work, he only partially succeeded. Folk-like melodies permeate its course, deployed in formal structures of subtle coherence. Most impressive is the second movement – its ’Scherzo’ section unobtrusively encased within an ’Andante’ (had Myaskovsky heard or at least seen Rachmaninov Three?), the whole bound together by thematic links as direct as they are ingenious. The outer movements build a shade dutifully to their expected apotheosis, but Myaskovsky’s stylistic integrity ensures optimism without bathos. Not quite the equal of the symphonies on either side, but a sincere statement made under near-intolerable conditions.

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