Miaskovsky: Symphony No. 9; Symphony No. 20

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COMPOSERS: Miaskovsky
LABELS: Olympia
WORKS: Symphony No. 9; Symphony No. 20
PERFORMER: Russian Federation Academic SO/Evgeny Svetlanov
Olympia’s survey of Miaskovsky’s complete and copious symphonic output continues apace. The four-movement Ninth (1926-7), begun during his only journey outside Russia (to Vienna, where he was dreadfully homesick), belongs to a period when Miaskovsky seemed unsure of his symphonic direction after the achievement of the ‘revolutionary’ Sixth. No. 9’s big Andante first movement is somewhat laboured in its nostalgia, and is rather mechanically recalled in the central span of the finale, but the inner movements are something else. Per Skans’s booklet notes record that Miaskovsky had recently received some Debussy scores from his friend Prokofiev and regrets we do not know which they were, but it’s a safe bet that La mer was included, to judge by the echoes of it in Miaskovsky’s remarkably colourful and inventive scherzo. The haunted, melancholic slow movement is memorable, too. Overall, perhaps, Svetlanov’s performance offers no real advantages over Edward Downes’s rather tauter account with the BBC Philharmonic on Marco Polo. But the coupling, Symphony No. 20 (1940), has never been recorded before and proves a real charmer in Miaskovsky’s most bright-eyed optimistic Soviet vein, like a kind of Russian Korngold. Superbly crafted and with a really gorgeous (and dreadfully old-fashioned but utterly sincere) central Adagio, it’s hardly an important work but should win the composer more enthusiasts. Calum MacDonald