Lokshin (Les) Fleurs du mal
Much as any new acquaintance with one of the Soviet Union’s most rewarding mavericks is to be welcomed, this issue seems slightly premature in that it feels like an appendix to at least three BIS CDs of Lokshin’s superb symphonies that are still (I hope) to come.
The two BIS volumes in the series thus far have amply demonstrated the individuality of Lokshin’s unlikely blend of Bergian sensuality and Stravinskian asceticism. Two works from the 1980s on the new disc reinforce that impression: namely the six-minute The Art of Poetry, and especially the Sinfonietta No 2, composed two years before Lokshin’s death in 1987. Both are scored for his favourite combination of voice and chamber ensemble, and both manage to be simultaneously laconic and passionate. Impressive stuff.
The setting of three poems from Baudelaire’s Les fleurs du mal dates from 1939, when the 19-year-old composer was in the middle of his studies with Myaskovsky. Obviously indebted to Mahler (the Third Symphony is virtually quoted near the beginning) and Scriabin (above all The Poem of Ecstasy), this is an accomplished apprentice piece but no more than that. The Hungarian Fantasy of 1952 likewise serves to fill out the picture of Lokshin’s oeuvre, being a not very interesting example of the kind of folksy jobbery that Soviet composers were under pressure to deliver in the late-Stalin era; its problem is that it never lifts itself out of the cadenza-like flourishes that seem to herald something far more interesting. Finally In the Jungle gives a taste of Lokshin as a moderately inventive film composer (the project was based on Kipling’s Jungle Book).
Performances are faithful and well prepared, and BIS’s recording is predictably first-rate. A safe bet for specialists, then, but newcomers to Lokshin would do better to start with a BIS disc of his Symphonies Nos 5, 9 and 11.