Nikolai Myaskovsky – Complete Symphonic Works, Volume 10 (Olympia)

0 of 5 stars

Symphony No.14 in C, Op.37
Symphony No.22 in B minor, Op.54

Russian Federation Academic Symphony Orchestra
Evgeny Svetlanov

Recorded between 1991 & 1993 (Symphony No.14) and in 1970

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: December 2003

Olympia’s Myaskovsky series continues with two symphonies that typify the composer’s mature approach of conformity with integrity. In neither work is there anything to alarm or even disconcert, but the thoughtful if often reticent personality continually holds the attention.

Symphony No.14 was composed in 1935, two years after its stark and sombre predecessor. Compared to that work’s concentrated single-movement span, the Fourteenth runs the risk of diffusiveness with its succession of five abstract mood studies. An amiable Allegro giocoso is followed by a pensive Andantino, whose livelier central section hints at a folk-music influence often to the fore in Myaskovsky’s music at this time. The third movement is a spirited if somewhat anonymous Quasi Presto, almost a foil to the Andante sostenuto that acts as the symphony’s centre of gravity in no uncertain terms. After one of the composer’s most convincingly shaped slow movements, the Allegro con fuoco is all too evidently a finale by design – rounding off the piece in easy affirmation.

It’s hardly a major work overall, whereas Symphony No.22 is a relative masterpiece in the Myaskovsky canon. Completed early in November 1941, it stands with Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony and Prokofiev’s Suite 1941 as a direct response to Nazi invasion. Typically, Myaskovsky’s ’symphony-ballad’ admits of neither bombast nor false heroism; instead, it offers a reasoned and deeply personal perspective on the subject of war by one who had endured such privations little more than 20 years earlier. The brooding initial Lento reappears at several points in the large-scale Allegro non troppo, along with what sound like unmistakable allusions to a seminal symphony written over a century earlier (listen out around 6’40″ and then from 12’00″ and later and judge for yourself).

The alternation between repose and agitation is left unresolved when the movement passes seamlessly into its Andante con duolo successor, a combination of funeral march-cum-berceuse affecting in its directness. The crescendo leading into the Allegro energico finale is viscerally conceived, and if the movement itself is a little short-winded thematically, it caps the symphony with impressive dynamism – not least the thunderous but purposeful closing bars.

It helps that this 1970 recording finds the then USSR Symphony Orchestra galvanised by Evgeny Svetlanov into a performance the like of which would bring the house down in a live concert. Good sound for the period too – as is that for No.14, though here the orchestral playing is a good deal less committed – in part reflecting the lower voltage of the music itself. Per Skans contributes his customary helpful booklet note, and the disc reinforces the feeling that Myaskovsky seldom had nothing of interest to say, and always spoke with complete control over style and expression.

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