ALBUM TITLE: Myaskovsky
WORKS: Complete Symphonies and Orchestral Works
PERFORMER: USSR State Symphony Orchestra; Russian Federation Academic SO/Evgeny Svetlanov
CATALOGUE NO: 2564 69689-8
At long last Warner Classics has made available one of the most important milestones in Evgeny Svetlanov’s extensive recording career. As many readers will doubtless already know, these Myaskovsky recordings have enjoyed a rather chequered history thus far. Ten discs from the series were temporarily available on the Olympia label some years ago, and more recently Alto issued three further volumes, promising to complete the set very soon. It would be a pity, however, if the arrival of the Warner box was to thwart Alto’s good intentions.
For one thing although Warner has managed to squeeze all the music onto 16 generously filled discs, the packaging is nowhere near as informative as on the single releases. In particular the accompanying booklet provides precious little documentary background on the repertory and is riddled with misprints and omissions when it comes to titles of works, for example, and the tempos of individual movements. Nonetheless one can overlook such niggles for the sake of discovering some fascinating music. As an older contemporary and close friend of Prokofiev, Myaskovsky stands as an important historical bridge between Glazunov, Scriabin and Rachmaninov, all of whom influenced his musical language, and the younger generation of Soviet composers such as Kabalevsky and Khachaturian who became his pupils. On superficial acquaintance the musical personality and quality of ideas may not be as bold as those of Prokofiev and Shostakovich, and there are certain stylistic fingerprints such as the composer’s tendency to rely too readily on sequential repetition to generate tension, and his over-fondness for canonic imitation, that can become wearisome. Yet if Myaskovsky ultimately remains a flawed genius, there is little doubt that his symphonic journey offers far more peaks than troughs. It takes us from the post-Tchaikovskian melancholia and Scriabinesque frenzy of his early works, towards his increasingly polyphonic chromaticism of the 1920s and on to his attempts to forge a symphonic style that accorded to the principles of the Socialist Realism without compromising standards of musical craftsmanship. Having listened to this whole cycle in chronological order of composition, I would single out the Third, the Sixth (arguably the composer’s masterpiece but performed here regrettably without the chorus in the finale), the 11th, 13th and 21st as works of real substance, and there are sections in the other symphonies that are atmospheric and compelling such as the slow movements of the Seventh and 16th. Of the other orchestral pieces, the two early symphonic poems Silence (after Edgar Allan Poe) and Alastor (after Shelley) present Myaskovsky’s brooding idiom at its most urgent.
By the time Svetlanov came to record the bulk of this repertory in the somewhat boomy acoustic of the Tchaikovsky Conservatoire, his Russian Federation Symphony Orchestra had become a rather pale shadow of the former USSR Symphony Orchestra – a point exemplified by the far more polished playing offered in the earlier Soviet recordings of the Third and 22nd. Still, for the most part the conductor’s passionate commitment to the music carries one through those few moments where the ensemble may be less than ideal. Erik Levi