Myaskovsky Complete Symphonies and Orchestral Works
Myaskovsky enthusiasts inured to famine face a sudden glut. While the present Alto issue continues a slow-build sequence, carrying on from where Olympia’s Svetlanov series broke off some years ago, the apparent exclusivity of that arrangement has been torpedoed by a rival 16-CD intégrale from Warner France. Though presumably similarly sourced, the transfers are not always identical in matters of balance and equalisation. The main drawback of the Warner set is the skimpiness of its annotations. Alto remains committed to giving us the contextual material such unfamiliar scores can scarcely do without. Its makeweight here is a case in point. A seemingly innocuous overture, it turns out to have been the composer’s contribution to Stalin’s 60th birthday celebrations in 1939. In which case its avoidance of vulgarity may even be considered quietly heroic.
Of the two symphonies in the Alto instalment, the 17th (1936-37) is indubitably a large statement. Composed at the height of the Great Terror, its idiom seems a little more extroverted than usual, Rachmaninov crossed with Khachaturian perhaps. The epic slow movement will be a must for listeners with a sweet tooth even if things could, with advantage, move on a little faster! Liadov meets Korngold in the Trio of the third. You may well have come across this performance in an earlier Melodiya incarnation.
The 21st (1940) was long Myaskovsky’s calling-card. It was commissioned by the Chicago SO and there are vintage recordings originating from both sides of the Iron Curtain. None is as long-breathed as this one. Perhaps one can forgive the blaring confusion of Svetlanov’s climaxes for the nobility of his take on the elevated, Roy Harris-style opening section. The score’s most memorable idea, referencing Rimsky’s Antar Symphony, has that authentic Myaskovsky lyricism in spades and of course Svetlanov milks it for all it’s worth. Glorious heartfelt stuff although those brought up on more tautly controlled readings may cry self-indulgence. As usual the playing ranges from the inspired to the sketchy, the results compellingly “noble” even where manifestly flawed.
For anyone coming fresh to the composer and his world, the Warner set provides an extraordinarily economical, if potentially mystifying, entrée. The recordings, patchily available in various guises over the years, would appear to include Soviet era items from the Melodiya catalogue alongside sessions reportedly subsidised by the conductor himself during the Yeltsin interregnum.