Nabokov

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COMPOSERS: Nabokov
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Ode: Méditation sur la majesté de Dieu; Union Pacific
PERFORMER: Marina Shaguch (soprano), Alexander Kisselev (bass); Russian State Symphonic Capella, The Hague Residentie Orchestra/Valeri Polyansky
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9768
Chandos has made something of a speciality of resuscitating music by lesser-known 20th-century Russian composers who fled their native country after the Revolution. Following Grechaninov and Vladimir Dukelsky, it has now turned its attention to the virulently anti-Communist Nicolas Nabokov (1903-78), and with the world-premiere recording of his Ode, fills one of the major gaps in the discography of new works first performed by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes during the Twenties. In fact, Ode turns out to be one of the most interesting ballets of its period. More an oratorio than a stage work, it is conceived as a sequence of short arias, recitatives, vocal duets, orchestral interludes and choruses setting the grandiose ‘Evening meditation upon the Greatness of God’ by the 18th-century Russia poet Lomonosov.

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Nabokov’s brittle musical idiom, projected with great fervour and commitment by Polyansky and his excellent forces, owes something to the Stravinsky of Mavra, though the primitive homophonic choral-writing is more obviously reminiscent of earlier Russian composers, in particular Mussorgsky. There’s a disarming spontaneity of invention and directness of style about Ode that is particularly appealing, much more so in my opinion than the later ballet Union Pacific. This work, composed in America also for the Ballets Russes, depicts the construction of the Union Pacific railway in a series of dances, and recalls Prokofiev in places, even though much of the melodic material is actually drawn from popular American songs, including the inevitable ‘Yankee Doodle’. While the score is once again performed with considerable virtuosity, this is essentially occasional music that for all its variety and colour, lacks the freshness of Ode. Erik Levi