Miaskovsky: Symphony No. 6

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Miaskovsky
WORKS: Symphony No. 6
PERFORMER: Gothenburg SO & Chorus/Neeme Järvi
CATALOGUE NO: 471 655-2
Like many of Shostakovich’s symphonies, Miaskovsky’s Sixth clearly has something it wants to tell us. That the message is mostly dark and often painful is transparent from the beginning, but beyond that the signs get harder to read. Do the French revolutionary songs quoted in the finale signify optimism about the newly founded Soviet State? The tone of the ending, the references to the sombre medieval ‘Dies irae’ chant and to Mussorgsky’s great tragedy of the Russian people Boris Godunov raise a huge question mark. And aligning oneself stylistically with such politically incorrect figures as Scriabin and Glazunov would have been risky in the early days of Bolshevik rule, as Miaskovsky would have been well aware. It’s an intriguing piece – and not just for political/historical reasons. Readers who’ve sampled later Miaskovsky and found it worthy but unrewarding should be prepared for a surprise. The Sixth Symphony is full of ideas that fasten in the memory, demanding you go back and explore further. Neeme Järvi’s new recording is the best yet: the playing is excellent, the interpretation full of feeling and well thought-through, the sound quality warm, if a little over-reverberant. If this review stops just short of a rave it’s because I’ve a suspicion that Miaskovsky’s Sixth still has more to reveal in performance. Still, this is a big step in the right direction. Stephen Johnson