Popov, Shostakovich

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COMPOSERS: Popov,Shostakovich
LABELS: Telarc
WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Theme and Variations, Op. 3
PERFORMER: LSO/Leon Botstein
Gavriil Popov’s First Symphony was premiered in Leningrad in 1935 and immediately banned as ‘reflecting the ideology of classes hostile to us’. He never heard it again: his later work, such as I know of it, is somewhat tamer. This, though, is a huge, brawling piece with shades of Scriabin, Mahler, Berg, Krenek, by turns tragic, ironic, grotesque, heroic and achingly lyrical, full of pungent sonic invention – a major addition to the Soviet symphonic canon. Shostakovich and Prokofiev admired it: the most fascinating aspect is the extent to which Popov’s Symphony directly foreshadows Shostakovich’s Fourth. Occasionally (especially in the finale) one seems to catch adumbrations of actual Shostakovich themes. But it has its own strong personality – Popov’s slow movement is among the most moving Soviet music of its era, and the ecstatically hectoring coda outdoes anything in Shostakovich for wild abandoned force. While there is a previous version on Olympia, Leon Botstein gave the work its US premiere, and Telarc’s immensely impressive recording is a wholly justified act of revival. This is a score that demands the utmost virtuosity from every player (and repeated hearings from the listener), but the LSO sounds thoroughly rehearsed and well on top of the symphony’s phantasmal complexities. Shostakovich’s own Tchaikovskian Theme and Variations (previously recorded, I think, only by Rozhdestvensky in 1982) may merely reveal an uncannily gifted student technician, but has considerable charm. Calum MacDonald