Karamanov: Symphony No. 20 (Blessed are the Dead); Symphony No. 23 (I am Jesus)

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COMPOSERS: Karamanov
LABELS: Olympia Explorer
WORKS: Symphony No. 20 (Blessed are the Dead); Symphony No. 23 (I am Jesus)
PERFORMER: USSR RSO/Vladimir Fedoseyev
Alemdar Karamanov, ‘the great unknown’ of modern Russian music, was born in 1934 of Russian/Turkish parents. Schnittke, his close friend, has called him ‘a genius… phenomenally gifted’. Reflecting his religiosity and interest in the cosmos, the present two symphonies come from a cycle of six about the Apocalypse (Let it Be). No. 20 (Blessed are the Dead, from 1977), prophetically a requiem for Chernobyl, pays tribute to martyred saints. No. 23 (I am Jesus), conducted by Ashkenazy at last year’s Berlin Festival, draws parallels between the bloodshed of the war against Hitler’s Germany and early Christian persecution. The reclusive Karamanov (he’s lived in his native Crimean countryside since the Sixties) is a free-wheeling spirit, a dramatic orchestrator who knows how to generate large-scale structure. He paints a massive tonal canvas that is almost tangibly visual, full of jagged imagery and surrealistic dreams, long crescendos and lyrical fadeouts, violent climaxes and delirious concertante interruptions. Any means, any style is his for the using – a brand of hyper-eclecticism unlike anything in the West. These archive performances from the Moscow Conservatoire – powerfully directed, hugely physical, sensationally recorded – date from 1982. As witnesses to a composer’s will to survive in the face of official censure, they’re stunning. Ates Orga