Vainberg Symphony No 17;The Banners of Peace
Olympia’s admirable loyalty to the cause of Mieczyslaw Vainberg (as he latterly preferred to be styled) here reaches a seventh volume and the first of the three symphonies that form his trilogy On the Threshold of War. No. 17 is subtitled Memory. The allusion is to some lines of Anna Akhmatova remembering “the fire-scorched years of war”; and Akhmatova also haunts the last symphony of the trilogy (this is not yet available: No. 18 is, coupled with No. 14, on Vol. 6, 12/96). She was still a non-person when she died in 1966, and it says something about the shifting standards of the latter days of the Soviet Union that Vladimir Fedoseyev, one of Vainberg’s greatest champions, was able to give this performance of the Moscow premiere in November 1984. It is not flawless, and there is the occasional contribution from the kind of listener who believes that no quiet passage is complete without a cough, but the record is very well worth issuing. Vainberg’s debt to Shostakovich remains, but such debts are repaid by a good composer, and moreover they seem the less with deeper familiarity and with the passage of time. There is a strong opening Adagio, two faster central movements, and a striking finale that seems to end abruptly, even laconically, on the brink.
The Banners of Peace was one of the rare official works by this very unofficial composer, scarcely in a position to refuse the chance of the performance here recorded at the Twenty-seventh Communist Party Congress in 1986. He acquits himself well, with a sequence of contrasting sections that are both tuneful and inventive, scored with all the mastery that is applied to more creative ends in the symphonies. As with all the records in the series, there is much illumination on a still little-known figure in the excellent insert-essays by Per Skans.'