Lyapunov: Symphony No. 2

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WORKS: Symphony No. 2
PERFORMER: Radio France PO/Evgeny Svetlanov
A belated addition to the Russian nationalist traditions, Lyapunov was near the end of his career when he wrote his Second Symphony during the tumultuous events of 1917. It was destined to remain unplayed for 34 years. It’s a heartfelt, if rather grim work, roughly the size and proportions of Rachmaninov’s Second, but with neither the triumphant ending (Lyapunov’s ebbs away in elegiac dissolution) nor the melodic riches. It opens with a chant-like chromatic motto, and by continual transformations almost every theme in the Symphony derives fairly obviously from this source, giving the work an obsessive, almost monothematic quality and lending a certain mechanical inevitability to some of its working-out. There is some splendid music here – the scherzo is a taut and furious invention – but generally the work compels respect rather than enthusiasm. It had one devoted enthusiast in Evgeny Svetlanov, who conducted the work’s eventual premiere in Leningrad in 1951 and 47 years later gave the French premiere in the live concert at the Salle Pleyel now released on this disc. The French Radio orchestra occasionally sound taxed by Lyapunov’s quite complex and virtuosic instrumental demands, but the warmth and conviction which Svetlanov, in what must be one of his last recordings, brings to this profoundly ‘Old Russian’ symphony are never in doubt. There is some audience noise and the recording is a little murky, but it’s an interesting release. The notes include a bitter little memoir from Svetlanov on how he was ejected from the conductorship of the Russian State Orchestra. Calum MacDonald