Karamanov: Symphony No. 22 (Let It Be); Symphony No. 23 (I am Jesus)

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COMPOSERS: Karamanov
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Symphony No. 22 (Let It Be); Symphony No. 23 (I am Jesus)
PERFORMER: Deutsches SO Berlin/Vladimir Ashkenazy
CATALOGUE NO: 452 850-2
Alemdar Karamanov is the kind of composer around whom cults flourish. Born in 1934, he rejected the avant-garde for what the booklet notes call ‘musical ideals linked to his spiritual beliefs’, and has spent the last 35 years as a recluse in the Crimea, amassing a huge output suppressed by the Soviet authorities and unknown in the West until 1991. (A Karamanov Society now operates from an address in Bedfordshire.)

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The half-hour, continuous but multi-movement 22nd and 23rd Symphonies are part of a group of six written between 1976 and 1980 ‘on themes from the Apocalypse’. Praised by Shostakovich and Schnittke, Karamanov can demonstrate the rhythmic vitality of the former and the stylistic range of the latter. The more obviously textural moments in ‘Let It Be’ – which sustain a suitably apocalyptic manner – suggest comparisons with Penderecki. But ‘I am Jesus’ – which largely capitulates to a 19th-century idiom, culminating in a quotation from Dvorák’s ‘Songs My Mother Taught Me’ – could never be mistaken for the work of any of these composers. In both symphonies, kitsch and structural meltdown are never far away. Strictly for lovers of Slavic excess. Keith Potter