Collection: Russian Art

COMPOSERS: Glazunov,Rachmaninov,Shostakovich etc
LABELS: ZYX
WORKS: Russian orchestral works,
CATALOGUE NO: see text for catalogue numbers/distr. 0171 371 6969) ADD/DDD

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The concept is all too easily derided. ZYX has licenced a gaggle of Melodiya recordings from the far more clued-up folk at BMG and used them to promote so-called ‘contemporary’ Russian art on the CD boxes.

Courtesy of lucky Mr Pirra and his Turin gallery, the featured artists sometimes please us, but never provoke, toeing the impressionistic line as if the fresh air of Larionov, Goncharova and company had never breezed into Russian art early this century: there are no visual equivalents to the bold outlines and colours of Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Prokofiev or Shchedrin.

The composers receive an inadequate paragraph or two in the booklets, while artist tributes run on for pages in bad translations. We learn that Maya Kopitzeva lost her father at a young age because she was an only child, and that whenever Viacheslav Zabelin ‘painted a woman he did this with all his fascination and got lost’. Even Petersburg is translated as ‘Peterborough’. Yet there are some real treasures among the recordings.

BMG has the celebrated Kondrashin double bill of Rachmaninov’s The Bells and Symphonic Dances; and yet Svetlanov’s performances (CLA 10008-2), following a fitfully brilliant and ultimately cut Second Symphony, are both wilder and deeper (admittedly the unpredictable Melodiya recording adds to the terror).

It’s good, too, to be reminded of Svetlanov’s hard-hitting Shostakovich (Symphonies 5, 7 and 9 on CLA 10011-2) and Rozhdestvensky’s vivacious performance of Prokofiev’s Buffoon ballet, the only complete recording, is especially welcome back to the catalogue (CLA 10009-2).

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These single-composer tributes suggest a canny selecting hand at work. But who will buy the odd twinning of cod-folksong arrangements from what sounds like the Russian James Last Orchestra with Prokofiev’s old friend Miaskovsky in mainly neo-classical mood (CLA 10012-2)? And, interesting as it may be to alternate Mosolov’s party-line choral songs performed in very authentic folk style and music by his experimental former self on the second disc of CLA 10004-2, what are the minute of nose-thumbing Schnittke and a splash of Karayev’s Seven Beauties ballet doing on the first? All these, and other, questions remain unanswered by ZYX.