Steinberg: Symphony No. 2 in B flat minor; Variations pour grand orchestre

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COMPOSERS: Steinberg
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Symphony No. 2 in B flat minor; Variations pour grand orchestre
PERFORMER: Gothenburg SO/Neeme Järvi
CATALOGUE NO: 471 198-2
If Maximilian Steinberg is mentioned today it’s usually as the teacher of the brilliant young Dmitri Shostakovich rather than as a composer in his own right. Enter Neeme Järvi, guns blazing, to the rescue. Few conductors today have done as much to rehabilitate neglected and forgotten music – can he save Steinberg? There’s no mistaking his impassioned belief in the Second Symphony, and it certainly emerges as an interesting work in this vividly recorded performance. It’s easy to see how it could have been thought superior to the young Stravinsky’s nearly contemporary Symphony in E flat. Steinberg can echo his teacher Rimsky-Korsakov and even the younger Scriabin without coming across as derivative. But put it alongside such important contemporary Russian symphonic works as Rachmaninoff’s Second and Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy and all too plainly it isn’t in the same class. There’s something oddly reticent about Steinberg’s musical personality, despite Järvi’s determined championship. It’s harder to be enthusiastic about the Variations – well-written, but neither appealing nor particularly original. Russian specialists will no doubt be glad to hear the Symphony at long last: it did make an impact in its day, if only for a short while. Otherwise I wouldn’t recommend it. Stephen Johnson

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