Miaskovsky: Symphonic Works: Vol. 6: Pathétique Overture; Symphony No. 6; Vol. 7: Symphony No. 7; Symphony No. 26; Vol. 8: Symphony No. 8; Symphony No. 10

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COMPOSERS: Miaskovsky
LABELS: Olympia
WORKS: Symphonic Works: Vol. 6: Pathétique Overture; Symphony No. 6; Vol. 7: Symphony No. 7; Symphony No. 26; Vol. 8: Symphony No. 8; Symphony No. 10
PERFORMER: Russian Federation Academic SO/Evgeny Svetlanov
CATALOGUE NO: OCD 736, 737, 738
Olympia nobly continues to issue the late Evgeny Svetlanov’s exploration of this fecund symphonist, by his example and rectitude a figure of cardinal importance for 20th-century Russian music. Miaskovsky’s probable masterpiece is the huge Sixth Symphony composed in the wake of the October Revolution, which manages to be simultaneously feverishly dramatic and deeply depressive. The polarity intensifies in the ambiguous yet ultimately assuagingly melancholic finale, which juxtaposes jubilant French-Revolutionary songs against an Orthodox chorus on the Parting of the Soul from the Body. The playing of Svetlanov’s once-great orchestra sadly lacks the polish which Neeme Järvi and the Gothenburg SO bring to this epic work on DG. Also Järvi – surely rightly – uses the ad libitum chorus in the finale, which Svetlanov omits (and probably couldn’t afford). Yet the Olympia release carries a higher expressive charge: Svetlanov communicates the total belief which this great work can inspire (yes, despite its longueurs), and will always need. Even so, Kondrashin’s blazing 1959 performance with the USSR Symphony Orchestra remains the benchmark for all others.

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The other items are a typically Miaskovskian mixed bag, with striking ideas sometimes buried under conscientiously deployed technique and then redeemed by occasional flashes of genius and the deep emotional honesty that makes him one of the most lovable of Russian masters. Never a young clever-clogs like Prokofiev or Shostakovich, Miaskovsky strove to represent himself and his times as truthfully as he knew how. The two-movement Seventh Symphony balances pastoral against emotional turbulence; No. 8 is a kind of latter-day Russian nationalist symphony on the tale of Stenka Razin; the one-movement Tenth a vivid and chromatically oppressive tone poem after Pushkin’s The Bronze Horseman. I hadn’t previously heard the prolix yet likeable Symphony No. 26 – sometimes subtitled ‘on Russian Themes’, yet passingly VW-ish in its mild and spacious treatment of folk-like material. Amazing that music so inoffensive should have fallen foul of Stalin’s 1948 campaign against formalism, yet it did; likewise the rather fine Pathétique Overture written for the 30th anniversary of the Red Army. In the latter, Miaskovsky had daringly (or, more likely, because he was simply incapable of writing politically acceptable cliché) renounced all heroics and militarism, concentrating instead on a spirit of elegy and dark, purposeful symphonic development. The performances (No. 6 apart) are good rather than great, and the same applies to the recording, but Miaskovsky enthusiasts will rejoice nonetheless.