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Glazunov, Alexander Konstantinovich
Symphony No. 6 in C Minor, Op. 58
1.   I. Adagio - Allegro appassionato 00:11:05
2.   II. Theme and Variations 00:11:04
3.   III. Intermezzo: Allegretto 00:04:53
4.   IV. Finale: Andante maestoso - Moderato maestoso - Scherzando - Allegro pesante - Allegro moderato 00:11:03

Kalinnikov, Vasily Sergeyevich
Symphony No. 1 in G Minor
5.   I. Allegro moderato 00:14:18
6.   II. Andante commodamente 00:07:12
7.   III. Scherzo: Allegro non troppo - moderato assai 00:08:14
8.   IV. Finale: Allegro moderato 00:09:16 

Moscow Symphony Orchestra
Alexander Anissimov - conductor (1 - 4)

National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine
Theodore Kuchar - conductor (5 - 8)


While the Symphony No. 6 in C minor, Op. 58, of 1896 by Alexander Glazunov is not the most personally characteristic of his eight completed symphonies -- the optimistic Third or the Olympian Fifth are more typical of his confident symphonic aesthetic -- it is arguably the most typically Russian of his symphonies. Part of the reason for this is the scoring -- violins in octaves above massed brass at its climaxes à la Tchaikovsky and gorgeously colorful woodwind writing in its central movements -- part of it is the themes -- ardent and powerful with a yearning quality characteristic of fin de siècle Russian symphonies -- but most of it is the furious tone of the opening movement. With the darkly unfolding Adagio leading into a Allegro appassionato that balances a passionately despairing first theme with a fervently supplicating second theme, Glazunov's Sixth sounds like a Russian symphony composed after the death of Tchaikovsky. But the Sixth is more than the work of a symphonic epigone. While the tone of the opening movement sounds typically Russian, its chromatic melodic and cogent harmonic structure makes it sound much more modern than contemporary symphonies by Kalinnikov or even Rachmaninov. Even more modern are the Sixth's second and fourth movements. The second movement is a theme and seven variations that slowly transmutes the tone of the symphony from the fury of the opening movement to one of calm acceptance. The brief third-movement Intermezzo that precedes the Finale is lighter in tone than anything else in the symphony. The Finale itself is one of Glazunov's most successful closing movements. With its magisterial Andante maestoso introduction announcing the chorale theme that will ultimately cap the movement, its highly contrasted themes -- the first confidently striding in the winds Moderato maestoso, the second a lilting Scherzando theme for the flutes, horns, and strings -- the Finale seems at first too episodic to cohere. Glazunov's superb technical skills, however, form all the Finale's material into an organic whole and the tone of the Finale -- powerfully positive -- is altogether Glazunov's own. ---James Leonard,


In 1893 Kalinnikov was appointed to his first important musical post, as second conductor of the Italian Opera in Moscow. Not many months before he had also been given a post, on the recommendation of Pyotr Tchaikovsky, as conductor of the Malïy Theatre in the same city. His career seemed set to take off, but ongoing health problems, including tuberculosis, forced Kalinnikov to resign those posts within months of having received them. By 1894, Kalinnikov was settled in the warmer climate of Yalta, in the South Crimea, where he lived until his premature death in 1901. It was at Yalta that Kalinnikov wrote some of his most popular works, including the biggest success of his career, the Symphony No. 1, written over the years 1894 and 1895. The symphony, dedicated to Kalinnikov's teacher S.N. Kruglikov, was given its premiere in Kiev at a Russian Music Society concert conducted by Vinogradsky. The audience loved the work, requesting and receiving repeat performances of the work's two middle movements. Further successful performances followed soon all over Europe, including Vienna, Paris, London, and Berlin.

The reception the work enjoyed is not hard to understand. Kalinnikov loads his symphony with memorable melodies, he develops them with great skill, and his fluent and colorful orchestration calls Tchaikovsky to mind. The arresting theme with which the work opens is evocative of Russian folk song. Later in the Allegro moderato first movement, a broad second theme emerges in the strings, with decorations provided by the woodwinds. The fluently contrapuntal development section reminds the listener that Kalinnikov had practiced polyphonic writing in a series of fugues composed in the 1880s. The lyrical and melancholy second movement, Andante commodamente, is highlighted by a rich main theme in the oboe over pizzicato strings. Russian folk song is once again called to mind in the swaggering theme of the Scherzo third movement; the more restrained middle section featuring another folksy melody over a drone. The rousing Finale comes complete with reminders of some of the themes heard earlier in the work; the extroverted main theme interacts with some of those earlier tunes, leading to a powerful and triumphant conclusion. ---Chris Morrison,

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]]> (bluesever) Great Russian Symphonies Tue, 11 Sep 2018 14:40:48 +0000
Great Russian Symphonies - Vol. 2 (2012) Great Russian Symphonies - Vol. 2 (2012)

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Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Il'yich

Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Op. 64
1.   I. Andante - Allegro con anima 00:15:09
2.   II. Andante cantabile, con alcuna licenza 00:13:38
3.   III. Valse: Allegro moderato 00:05:39
4.   IV. Finale: Andante maestoso - Allegro vivo 00:12:19

Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture (3rd version, 1880)
5.   Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture (3rd version, 1880) 00:19:03 

Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra (1-4)
Antoni Wit - conductor

Pietro Alessandro Guglielmi Chamber Orchestra (5)
Adrian Leaper - conductor


Tchaikovsky composed this work between May and the end of August 1888, and conducted its premiere at St. Petersburg on November 17 of that year. Eleven years separated the "fateful" Fourth Symphony of 1877 from the Fifth, about which Tchaikovsky expressed ambivalent feelings both during its composition and later on. To his patroness, Nadezhda von Meck, he wrote in August 1888 that "it seems to me I have not failed, and that it is good." After conducting it in Prague, however, he wrote "...It is a failure; there is something repellent, something superfluous and insincere that the public instinctively recognizes." Yet by March he could write: "I like it far better now."

By no means did Tchaikovsky neglect the orchestra between 1877 (when he committed, in his words, the "rash act" of marriage) and 1888. He composed four wholly charming and fanciful suites, of which the second and third could have passed as symphonies had he chosen to call them that. Furthermore, he wrote the unnumbered but inspired Manfred Symphony in 1885. Yet Tchaikovsky never found symphonic structure as congenial as opera or ballet. His method was closer to Liszt's tone-poem procedure than to the Austro-German heritage, continued by Brahms and Bruckner among his contemporaries. Tchaikovsky favored sequences (in his case, the iteration and reiteration of four-bar cells) over enharmonic evolution. Listeners who've sometimes found his music as irritating as he found Brahms' tend do so because of sequence overload, finding that such repeated gestures result in an overblown effect. His greatest gifts were melody and orchestration: witness the popular songs plagiarized from his music, such as "Moon Love," cribbed from the slow movement of Symphony No. 5.

Like the Fourth, the Symphony No. 5 is unified by a six-measure "Fate" motto, heard straightaway in a darkly colored Andante introduction until, after a pause, the body of the opening 4/4 movement becomes a sonata-form Allegro con anima (with "soul" as well as spirit). It builds to a ferocious fortissimo climax before ending gloomily. Tchaikovsky marked this melodically rich slow movement Andante cantabile, con alcuna licenza (songfully unhurried, with some freedom). In D major basically, it is a 12/8 sonatina (exposition and reprise), with an elaborate three-part song structure replacing the development section. Its special glory is the solo-horn arietta looted by "Moon Love", although the ominous motto theme from the first movement interrupts twice -- like the Commendatore's Statue answering Don Giovanni's invitation to dinner.

The quasi-scherzo third movement is a waltz in A major out of Tchaikovsky's top balletic drawer, with a trio in F sharp minor plus a long coda that reprises the motto, now in 3/4 time. Germanic academics were scandalized by the presence of a waltz in a numbered symphony, but not Brahms, who stayed over in Hamburg to hear a rehearsal, and during a bibulous lunch with Tchaikovsky the day after praised the first three movements. The motto launches the last movement as it did the first, but now in E major, Andante maestoso, leading to another sonata-allegro construct -- this one vivace rather than moderato, with an alla breve meter that keeps it moving. At the end of the reprise, Tchaikovsky writes six B major chords -- a false cadence that invariably provokes applause -- before the motto, now bedecked in alb and fanon, launches a major-key coda as long as the entire development section. It quickens to a Presto dash for the double bar before broadening at the very end for a triumphantly sonorous tetrad of "end-of-file" chords. ---Roger Dettmer,


Numerous composers have responded to Shakespeare's timeless drama of forbidden and youthful love, but Tchaikovsky's response (along with Berlioz's and Prokofiev's) is at the top of the list. It is the only one of the three to be intended as a number in a symphony concert, and, hence is by default the most famous of the lot.

Tchaikovsky, a lawyer, was still developing as a composer at age 29 when Mily Balakirev (self-appointed father figure to Russian composers) persuaded him to write an orchestral work on the subject of the "star-cross'd lovers." Balakirev outlined the form, planned the keys, and even suggested some of the actual music. After the 1870 premiere, he convinced Tchaikovsky to revise it. The work's success in this form did much to transform the composer's tendency toward crippling doubt into useful self-criticism. (Not that the transformation was ever total; Tchaikovsky suffered bouts of depression and self-doubt throughout his career.) The composer revised it again in 1880; this version is almost universally the one played. While the final version is probably the best one, the 1869 text is also a fine work and very much worth hearing. The earlier version begins with a charming tune that carries elements of the great love theme. In the first and second revisions Tchaikovsky eliminated this and replaced it with the benedictory theme representing Friar Laurence. The effect of this change on the overture's structure is large. The first version seems to begin with Juliet still in a relatively childlike state, but with the potential for the great love present in the disguised premonitions of the love theme. The focus is, therefore, on the development of the drama as it unfolds. The later versions, beginning as it were with a prayer, seem to invite the hearer to look back on a tragedy that has already happened.

Both versions proceed identically through depictions of the clashes between the houses of Montague and Capulet, and then unveil the great love music. After that, though, Tchaikovsky's original idea seems to this writer to be superior: There is a great development, fugal-sounding and allowing for contrapuntal conflict based on the overture's main rhythms and themes. It is tremendously exciting, more so than the music which replaced it. Justification for dropping it might be made along the lines that the original version has too much dramatic weight and overshadows the rest of the music. The main differences thereafter are in details of scoring, and in the finale, which in the original version is much too curt.

It is often instructive to see what a great composer has done at two different times with the same ideas and material. Whether or not it has greater musical merit, Tchaikovsky's blessing of his final version served to ensure that it is the one that prevailed, and in that form it is accepted as one of the greatest programmatic pieces in the symphonic repertoire. The yearning love theme, in particular, is universally acknowledged as one of the greatest melodies ever written, while the exciting fight music and Tchaikovsky's unfailingly clear and imaginative orchestration carry the listener through with hardly a misstep. But the original version is not far behind it in musical worth; it should be given more frequent revivals, if only for the sake of hearing the great fugato passage described above. ---Joseph Stevenson,

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]]> (bluesever) Great Russian Symphonies Tue, 12 Jun 2018 15:19:56 +0000
Great Russian Symphonies - Vol. 3 (2012) Great Russian Symphonies - Vol. 3 (2012)

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Tchaikovsky, Pyotr Il'yich

Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74, "Pathetique"
1. Andante - Allegro Con Anima
2. Andante Cantabile, Con Alcuna Licenza
3. Valse: Allegro Moderato
4. Finale: Andante Maestoso - Allegro Vivo
5. Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture

Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra (1 - 4)
Antoni Wit - conductor

Pietro Alessandro Guglielmi Chamber Orchestra (5)
Adrian Leaper - conductor


Tchaikovsky composed this music between February and August 1893, and conducted the first performance on October 28 of that year in St. Petersburg. Already in 1890 Tchaikovsky had written to his patroness of 13 years, Nadezhda von Meck, about a possible "program symphony." By 1893 he was ready to follow through on the idea, dedicated to his nephew Vladimir Davidov, the "Bobyk" (or "Bob") of many diary-entries and letters during the 1880s. After a successful premiere, however, he was not satisfied with Program Symphony (No. 6) on the title page. Several days later Modest suggested "patetichesky," which in Russian means "1, enthusiastic, passionate; 2, emotional; and 3, bombastic" (rather than "pathetic" or "arousing pity," as in English). Pyotr Il'yich was delighted by the suggestion: "Excellent, Modya, bravo, patetichesky!" He wrote this onto the score, and sent it the same day to his publisher, Jurgenson. Two days later, however, he had qualms and asked Jurgenson to suppress subtitles -- to issue the work simply as Symphony No. 6, dedicated to Bobyk. One week later, he was dead. As for Jurgenson, he could not resist the opportunity in 1893 to publish No. 6, in elegant Lingua Franca, as Symphonie pathétique. The sobriquet has stuck ever since.

During the work's incubation Tchaikovsky was in rare good spirits, pleased with his boldness and fluency, especially in the trailblazing finale, a drawn-out Adagio of funereal character. Where others still wrote conventional slow movements, he hit on the idea of "a limping waltz" in 5/4 time. And he made the scherzo a march that builds to such a pitch of excitement that audiences ever since, everywhere, applaud at the end.

A lugubrious Adagio prologue begins with a bassoon solo in E minor that makes its way upward through the murk of divisi string basses, followed by a nervous little motif that blossoms into the main theme of an Allegro ma non troppo sonata-structure in B minor. The memorably sighing, mauve-hued melody that dominates this movement is actually its secondary subject. A crashing orchestral tutti sets up the passionately agitated development section, followed by a condensed reprise and a brief, calmed coda.

Tchaikovsky's marking for this D major "waltz" movement is Allegro con grazia -- a song and trio with extended coda whose mood may be wistful, even melancholic midway, but whose spirit is balletic, to the extent of echoing Nutcracker's "Waltz of the Flowers," composed a year earlier.

The March-Scherzo, Allegro molto vivace in common time, has an elfin character at the start. It is a sonatina (exposition and reprise without development) that quick-steps to an explosive climax but always returns to tonic G major.

Another sonatina (symphonic developments were Tchaikovsky's bête noire) is anchored in B minor, although the tragic second theme enters in D major. The overall mood is inconsolably grieving, but not "pathetic." Ultimately, the music returns to those murky depths in which the symphony was born some 40 minutes earlier -- without, however, benediction or hope. ---Roger Dettmer,



Mily Balakirev was a well-established founding father of Russian Nationalism in the late 1860s when he recognized a potential new protégé in the young Tchaikovsky. Balakirev’s influence had begun to diminish over the previous years but his helpful and discerning eye was just the sort of validation Tchaikovsky needed at the time. When Balakirev proposed a musical fantasy setting of Shakespeare’s tragic Romeo and Juliet in 1869, Tchaikovsky (a tortured soul even then) took to the agonizing subject matter in earnest. The dramatic events of Romeo and Juliet the play have elicited several legendary musical responses over time. Berlioz, Prokofiev and even Leonard Bernstein crafted masterful scores that perfectly captured the broad-stroke emotional content of Shakespeare’s words and Tchaikovsky’s “fantasy overture,” though more brief in scope, is their equal (if not superior) in every regard. This was the first great thunderbolt to issue from Tchaikovsky’s pen and the best early realization of his incredible potential. The boiled down story of the overture careens between the tension of the clashing Montague and Capulet houses and the heartbreaking beauty of the protagonists’ love. The sum of the parts is pure magic. Tchaikovsky revised the score twice over the next decade, once in 1870 at the suggestion of Balakirev and again in 1880. Thought the original version is a masterpiece in its own right, it was the final revision that the composer himself blessed as definitive.

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]]> (bluesever) Great Russian Symphonies Mon, 18 Jun 2018 14:33:26 +0000
Great Russian Symphonies, Vol. 1 (2012) Great Russian Symphonies, Vol. 1 (2012)

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Pyotr Tchaikovsky
Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36
1.I. Andante sostenuto - Moderato con anima	18:59
2.II. Andantino in modo di canzona	9:52
3.III. Scherzo: Pizzicato ostinato - Allegro	5:53
4.IV. Finale: Allegro con fuoco	9:15

Alexander Borodin
Symphony No. 2 in B minor
5.I. Allegro	6:59
6.II. Scherzo: Prestissimo. Trio: Allegretto	5:31
7.III. Andante	7:50
8.IV. Finale: Allegro	6:19

Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra (1-4)
Adrian Leaper - conductor

Seattle Symphony Orchestra	(5-8)
Gerard Schwarz - conductor


The word ‘symphony’ is used to describe an extended orchestral composition in Western classical music. By the eighteenth century the Italianate opera sinfonia—musical interludes between operas or concertos—had assumed the structure of three contrasting movements, and it is this form that is often considered as the direct forerunner of the orchestral symphony. With the rise of established professional orchestras, the symphony assumed a more prominent place in concert life between 1790 and 1820 until it eventually came to be regarded by many as the yardstick by which one would measure a composer’s achievement.

The symphony came late to Russia. The first attempts at a Russian Nationalist symphony were made in the late nineteenth-century by Balakirev and his acolytes, Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov as well as by Tchaikovsky, whose symphonies (despite his European leanings) have a distinctly Russian flavour. In their wake followed numerous composers, from Glazunov to Myaskovsky, similarly instilling their music with the melodies of their homeland. In the years that followed Russian politics had an unmistakable impact on the Russian symphonists, as Rachmaninov and Prokofiev (among others) went into exile whilst composers such as Shostakovich vented their political frustrations through the medium of music—his Leningrad Symphony being a prime example. ---Editorial Notes,


The most important works here also tend to get the best performances. So let’s proceed in order of overall quality. Best are Shostakovich’s Fifth with Petrenko, Borodin’s Second and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade with Schwarz, Kuchar’s Prokofiev First and Fifth, and Kalinnikov’s First, and Antoni Wit in Tchaikovsky’s Fifth and Sixth. All the rest are fair to good. These include Glazunov’s Sixth and Rachmaninov’s Second (and The Rock) with Anissimov, Shostakovich’s Seventh and Miaskovsky’s 25th (Yablonsky), Tchaikovsky’s Fourth and assorted short works (1812 Overture, Romeo and Juliet) with Adrian Leaper, and Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy and Third Symphony with Golovschin. Topping it all off is a pretty respectable Antar Symphony conducted by André Anichanov. Yes, you can do better in most of this music, but this 10-disc set is well-chosen and an easy way to get a big pile of popular and unfairly neglected Russian symphonies, so who’s complaining? -- David Hurwitz,


Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky composed his Fourth Symphony, the Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36, between 1877 and 1878, dedicated to his patroness and 'best friend' Nadezhda von Meck.

Following his catastrophic marriage to former student Antonina Miliukova, lasting a mere two months, Tchaikovsky made a start on his fourth symphony. After emerging from a profound period of writer's block, struggling with his sexuality and battling with a heavy bout of depression, it's perhaps unsurprising that the music is urgent, supercharged and violent at points. Even the opening bars of the first movement are intended to represent a metaphor for Fate, or, as poor old Tchaikovsky put it: "the fatal power which prevents one from attaining the goal of happiness".

Between the moments of anguish and melancholy, Tchaikovsky proves he knows how to write a great tune - even the plaintive oboe melody at the beginning of the second movement, the Andantino in modo di canzone, swells with a poignancy and optimism, helped along by lush strings and booming brass.

The Finale, complete with frenzied plucking from the strings and rushing scales bursting through the texture, is certainly a highlight. The doom-laden Fate theme comes back once more - a cyclical feature Tchaikovsky went on to use in the two symphonies that followed, Manfred, and Symphony No. 5, completed in 1885 and 1888 respectively.


Alexander Borodin's Symphony No. 2 in B minor took a long while to compose, as Borodin fit it in between labors on other works and his efforts as a scientist to ensure that women had access to chemistry courses. It was begun in 1869, but the piano score was not complete until 1875, and the orchestral version was not performed until 1877. That version was revised in 1879 after a poorly received premiere. Yet posterity has made the Symphony No. 2 not only Borodin's most popular symphony, but the most popular symphony written by any member of the nationalist Mighty Handful (Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, César Cui, Modest Mussorgsky, Mili Balakirev, and Borodin), because of its vividly rugged harmonies, deft orchestration, and a seemingly inexhaustible fund of energetic, passionate, and, above all, Russian themes.

A program for all but the second movement of the symphony has survived, as Borodin told it to critic Vladimir Stassov. The sonata-form first movement depicts a gathering of Russian knights; it opens with a strong, noble theme played on unison strings, as brasses and winds provide dark color and essay a chivalric-sounding contrasting theme. After a few repetitions of the opening music, a second theme enters, based on motifs from the folk songs "The Terrible Tsar" and "The Nightingale" and distinguished by its easy lyricism. The development section introduces a gallop rhythm that affects fragments of the themes and lends a knightly feel to the proceedings, leading into a recapitulation whose longer notes and thicker orchestration make it even more emphatic than the exposition. The Prestissimo scherzo that follows uses a sustained brass chord to modulate from B minor to F major (a remote key), and then launches into a succession of quick, bright, lightly scored melodies. The Trio takes a graceful, winding theme (also derived from the abovementioned folk songs) and runs it through various keys. The Andante third-movement portrays a legendary minstrel named Bayan, and evokes the sound of his zither in the opening bars with harp and pizzicato strings. At first, a warm horn melody dominates, but soon a struggle develops between a nervous, minor-mode motive introduced on the woodwinds and the opening melody. Finally, the opening melody enters triumphantly in the strings, and leads into a coda that brings back the minstrel evocation; this in turn leads directly into the Allegro finale. This finale depicts a jubilant crowd, using an appropriately buoyant main theme (decorated with generous percussion) and a second theme that begins as a quiet lyric, but soon expands into a celebration itself. A new development theme recalls the symphony's opening music, but this soon yields to a supremely joyous, unstoppable elaboration of the two main themes, whose momentum propels the music through the recapitulation and the coda. Borodin's Symphony No. 2 deserves its exalted position in the annals of the Mighty Handful's orchestral music. ---Andrew Lindemann Malone,

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]]> (bluesever) Great Russian Symphonies Fri, 08 Jun 2018 12:12:36 +0000
Great Russian Symphonies, Vol. 4 (2012) Great Russian Symphonies, Vol. 4 (2012)

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Sergey Prokofiev - Symphony No. 5 in B flat major, Op. 100
1.I. Andante	14:05
2.II. Allegro marcato	8:58
3.III. Adagio	13:30
4.IV. Allegro giocoso	10:31

Nikolay Myaskovsky - Symphony No. 24 in F minor, Op. 63
5.I. Allegro deciso		12:38
6.II. Molto sostenuto	11:04
7.III. Allegro appassionato		11:14

Ukraine National Symphony Orchestra (1-4)
Theodore Kuchar - conductor

Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra (5-7)
Dmitry Yablonsky - conductor


Prokofiev composed this music in 1944, and conducted its premiere in Moscow on January 13, 1945. Everyone everywhere assumed that it symbolized "world-war agony and triumph" -- in other words, his counterpart of Dmitry Shostakovich's 1941 "Leningrad" Symphony. It was the composer's Sixth Symphony of 1945-1947, not his Fifth, that recollected the horrors of World War II. Those who insisted the Fifth Symphony was a mirror of wartime agonies didn't know that the scherzo movement was borrowed from Cinderella. Nor did Prokofiev help matters by issuing one of those "position papers" expected by Soviet officialdom: "I conceived [the Fifth] as a symphony of the greatness of the human spirit."

After the failure of his Fourth Symphony (a 1929 reworking of material from his then-recent ballet, The Prodigal Son), Prokofiev turned his back on the form. When finally he did return, his implicit model was Shostakovich's Fifth of 1937 -- four movements in concerto-grosso sequence: slow, fast, slow, fast. Otherwise, though, the music is pure Prokofiev both in substance and in style.

The inaugural Andante is a sonata-form movement that begins in 3/4 time with a fluid main theme played in octave unison by flutes and bassoon, with a tailpiece in triplets that later assumes a separate identity. A lot of working-over leads to a new tune in 4/4, introduced by flute and oboe. A jittery figure in the high and low strings acquires thematic status in the development that follows directly. Brass announce the reprise by playing the opening theme very dramatically. Rhetoric accumulates, culminating in a -- why not? -- "greatness of the human spirit" coda.

The Allegro marcato scherzo (in all but name) has a D minor, Danse macabre-ish song section, followed by a slightly faster, D major trio in waltz-time, borrowed from Cinderella without blinking (or acknowledgment).

The official slow movement is a passionately lyrical, ABA Adagio in F major that begins with a reminder of Aleksandr Nyevsky (1939), but continues in the mode of Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet ballet. He changes keys frequently to intensify expression until the climax recalls Nyevsky's battle music. A slow introduction (lightly scored, based on music from the first movement) sets up this Allegro giocoso finale in B flat major. The strings begin a rhythm in bar 23 that prepares for merriment with a sweet-sour sauce. The clarinet plays a syncopated main theme recalling the high-spirits in Romeo and Juliet, prior to the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt; this returns throughout a rondo-like movement. Prokofiev's finale amounts to a retrospective of his stylistic direction following Symphony No. 4 -- including a return to the U.S.S.R. in 1933 -- and ends with a tour-de-force coda.

The first performance was a triumph, the climax of Prokofiev's Soviet years, followed shortly after by a physical tragedy from which he never fully recovered. Dizzied by undiagnosed hypertension, he fell downstairs (where remains moot), causing a massive concussion. ---Roger Dettmer,


Myaskovsky's symphonies generally have not "travelled well" outside the former Soviet Union. While he is highly regarded as a symphonist and as an artist who operated on a high esthetic plane, his dark romantic melodies, while immediately appealing to Russians, have taken longer to reach the West. In general, his many symphonies avoid the degree of drama and tragedy that Shostakovich, for instance, brings to the form.

This 35-minute-long symphony was written in 1943 and has traditionally been seen as a war symphony. (Myaskovsky was a career military officer even when he was a conservatory music student and as such had served at the front during World War I.) The two main themes of the first movement (Allegro deciso) both have elements of military fanfares, the first pronounced by the solo horn, the second, more ominous one by massed trumpets and trombones. The movement gains its dramatic effect by contrasting lyrical (but energetic) passages with powerful and decisive symphonic action.

The dramatic heart of the symphony is the second movement (Molto sostenuto). The mood is both tragic and spiritual. A Russian program annotator (Aleksei Ikonnikov) wrote that the spirtuality of the piece is not reminiscent of the icons of a monastery, but of the legendary warriors (bogatyrs) of medieval Russia going to the defense of the fatherland in a time of severe danger.

The finale (Allegro appassionato) is full of energy and conflict. Thunderous fanfares recalling the first movement constitute the main theme. Myaskovsky brings it to a confident but serious conclusion, providing the emotional summing up not only of the last movement, but of the preceding movements as well. As Ikonnov wrote, this symphony is a strong and moving memorial to the war years. ---Joseph Stevenson,

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]]> (bluesever) Great Russian Symphonies Sat, 23 Jun 2018 14:44:11 +0000
Great Russian Symphonies, Vol. 7 (2012) Great Russian Symphonies, Vol. 7 (2012)

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Rimsky Korsakov: Symphony No. 2, Op. 9 'Antar'
1. I. Largo - Allegro - Largo - Allegretto - Adagio - Allegretto - Largo	9:36
2. II. Allegro	4:16
3. III. Allegro risoluto	5:15
4. IV. Allegretto - Adagio	9:15

Rimsky Korsakov: Scheherazade, Op. 35
5. I. The Sea and Sinbad's Ship		10:43
6. II. The Kalender Prince	11:31
7. III. The Young Prince and the Young Princess		10:41
8. IV. Festival at Baghdad - The Sea	12:47

St. Petersburg State Symphony Orchestra (1-4)
Andre Anichanov - conductor

Seattle Symphony Orchestra(5-8)
Maria Larionoff (violin)
Gerard Schwarz - conductor


Given to a lively imagination and a lust for travel, young Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov’s first career was exploring the world as a Naval Officer. When his first six month naval tour ended, however, his love of music captured him completely and sated his youthful lusts. His music was immediately championed by Balakirev, leader of the famous “Mighty Fistful” of five Russian Nationalist composers, including Mussorgsky (Pictures at an Exhibition) and Borodin (Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor). Though his only three symphonies were early compositions, his masterful abilities for orchestral coloring and tunefulness were already evident, and especially magical in Symphony No. 2, “Antar.” Exotic folk tales, such as the legend of the Arab Antar, never ceased to fascinate Rimsky-Korsakov throughout his life.

The original Antar was born in what is now theUnited Arab Emiratesas Antarah Ibn Shaddād al-‘Absi. He lived in pre-Islamic Arabian times (around 580) and was a famous poet and adventurer-warrior. His life, as expressed through his poems, created the basis for an epic folk legend written centuries later by Osip Syenkovsky describing an extravagant romance — full of battles, magic, fairies, love and death. Rimsky-Korsakov took a few liberties with the epic, and his Symphony follows this storyline: Antar’s adventures have led him to the desert ruins ofPalmyra. Between wakefulness and dreams he comes across a gazelle about to fall prey to a ghoulish, giant bird. Antar defends the gazelle, which turns out to be the fairy Gul-Nazar, the Queen of Palmyra. For his chivalry, Gul-Nazar grants him the three joys his life has lacked, Vengeance, Power and Love. The Symphony’s first movement sets the parameters of the story, and the remaining three treat the three joys in succession.

Thematically Rimsky-Korsakov followed the lead of Hector Berlioz (Symphonie fantastique) by using specific themes to represent characters and literal themes throughout the whole work. The musical story begins with rising string figures,

The next theme is actually an Algerian folksong borrowed from Borodin, and which Rimsky-Korsakov orchestrated with exquisite deftness. Throughout the first movement, Antar’s theme, broad and dignified, is most prominent. These themes, or idée fixes, then tie the whole Symphony together.

In the finale, Love has come to Antar through Gul-Nazar, but in this he will be consumed and die. In a lovely set of passages, we hear the beautiful flute theme of the fairy entwine with Antar’s theme, and the story comes to a poignant close. Most clever throughout the Symphony is the melodic structure of Antar’s theme, which allows Rimsky-Korsakov to change the harmonies upon the last note of the first phrase, and in this, the composer creates some breathtaking moments. ---Max Derrickson,


The idea for Scheherazade came to Rimsky-Korsakov during the early winter months of 1888 as he worked to complete Alexander Borodin’s opera Prince Igor. Rimsky-Korsakov’s output had diminished significantly since his appointment in 1883 as the assistant to his mentor, Mily Balakeriev, at the Court Kapella,1 and much of this time was spent editing and revising his older works along with those of colleagues like Modest Mussorgsky (who had died in 1881). It is possible that Rimsky-Korsakov’s inspiration for a work with an Oriental character came from the Polovtsian Dances of Prince Igor,2 but exposure to such soundscapes can be traced back to as early as Balakeriev’s Tamara.3 Indeed, the recurring solo violin sections of Scheherazade seem to be an idea that Rimsky-Korsakov borrowed unabashedly from the earlier symphonic poem of his teacher.

The story of Scheherazade and the Sultan is a form of storytelling known as a “framed narrative.” It is a way of presenting shorter stories (in this case, the tales that Scheherazade presents to the Sultan) within a larger, overarching narrative that binds them all together. Rimsky-Korsakov utilizes this storytelling technique in Scheherazade by having the solo violin represent the title character throughout the suite, and this recurring material acts to connect the four movements of Scheherazade in the same way that the larger story of Scheherazade and the Sultan connects the smaller tales of Arabian Nights.

Although Rimsky-Korsakov makes it clear that the violin represents Scheherazade, he also goes on to insist that any other motivic connections were never intended (though he understands why listeners might make such assumptions). One common misconception, for example, is that the Sultan has a recurring theme as well:

In vain do people seek in my suite leading motives linked unbrokenly with ever the same poetic ideas and conceptions. On the contrary, in the majority of cases, all these seeming Leitmotive are nothing but purely musical material or the given motives for symphonic development. These given motives thread and spread over all the movements of the suite, alternating and intertwining each with the others. Appearing as they do each time under different illumination, depicting each time different traits, and expressing different moods, the same given motives and themes correspond each time to different images, actions, and pictures… The unison phrase, as though depicting Scheherazada’s stern spouse, at the beginning of the suite appears as a datum, in the Kalendar’s Narrative, where there cannot, however, be any mention of Sultan Shakhriar.5

There are a number of recurring motives threaded throughout the suite, but Rimsky-Korsakov insists that they are purely musical in function and do not represent any specific characters or events. Interestingly, Rimsky-Korsakov eventually removed the original thematic names for each movement in a later edition, but that change was never widely adopted:

Originally I had even intended to label Movement I of Scheherazada Prelude; II, Ballade; III, Adagio; and IV, Finale; but on the advice of Lyadov and others I had not done so. My aversion for seeking too definite a program in my composition led me subsequently (in the new edition) to do away with even those hints of it which had lain in the headings of each movement, like The Sea; Sindbad’s Ship; The Kalendar’s Narrative; and so forth. In composing Scheherazada I meant these hints to direct but slightly the hearer’s fancy on the path which my own fancy had travelled, and to leave more minute and particular conceptions to the will and mood of each. All I had desired was that the hearer, if he liked my piece as symphonic music, should carry away the impression that it is beyond doubt an Oriental narrative of some numerous and varied fairy-tale wonders and not merely four pieces played one after the other and composed on the basis of themes common to all the four movements.6

So, how does all of this affect us as bassoonists? In short, according to Rimsky-Korsakov, the solo and cadenzas found in “The Kalendar Prince” do not actually represent any character or plot point. This may be a difficult notion to accept, but Rimsky-Korsakov clearly and emphatically states that to be the case. Instead, the bassoon solo functions as a sort of expository opening to Scheherazade’s tale of the Kalendar Prince, presenting the audience with the mood and setting for the musical adventure to come.

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]]> (bluesever) Great Russian Symphonies Sat, 21 Jul 2018 14:11:27 +0000
Great Russian Symphonies, Vol. 8 (2012) Great Russian Symphonies, Vol. 8 (2012)

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Sergei Rachmaninov - Symphony No. 2 in E minor, Op. 27
1.I. Largo: Allegro moderato	20:44
2.II. Allegro molto		10:41
3.III. Adagio		14:46
4.IV. Allegro vivace		11:55

5.Sergei Rachmaninov - Utyos (The Rock), Op. 7	14:33

Ireland National Symphony Orchestra 
Alexander Anissimov - Conductor


By 1906, the time when Rachmaninov began work of the Second Symphony, he had become not only a well-known pianist and conductor, but a composer of considerable renown. Ten years before, however, the abject failure of his First Symphony had robbed him of his confidence and plunged him into a dark depression. Unable to compose for the next three years, he finally sought the help of Dr. Nicolai Dahl at the behest of relatives. Dahl used the then-new technique of hypnotism, which rapidly restored the composer's confidence. Shortly after his therapeutic sessions with Dahl, Rachmaninov produced his popular Second Piano Concerto. It must have been with some trepidation, though, that he started work on the Second Symphony, memories of the fate of the First undoubtedly still lingering in his mind.

Indeed, after composing the first draft of this symphony in 1906-1907, Rachmaninov declared his dissatisfaction with it; he would remark that it was not in his nature to compose symphonies. Nevertheless, he forced himself to rework the piece, and on February 8, 1908, he led the first performance in St. Petersburg. It was enthusiastically received, and by the end of the year, Rachmaninov was awarded the Glinka prize for his new work.

The Symphony opens with a brooding Largo introduction, drenched in mystery and ethereality; it features a motto theme that returns in various guises throughout the symphony. The agitated main theme (Allegro moderato) is followed by an alternate, more ecstatic melody, and then a rather stormy development section. The movement is quite long, especially when -- as is now the practice -- the exposition repeat is taken.

The second movement Scherzo offers a vigorous theme of seemingly brighter mood than that of most of the music in the opening panel. Yet, it is derived from the Dies irae theme, used in the Roman Catholic mass for the dead -- a theme which Rachmaninov used in almost every major composition he wrote. There is a lovely alternate melody, which is related to the motto appearing in the symphony's introduction.

The third movement (Adagio) opens a with a descending theme on strings, one of the composer's loveliest and most memorable creations. There follows an equally attractive melody on clarinet and another for violins and oboe. While to many this movement represents impassioned love music, to others it is profoundly meditative in its warm religiosity. No program was ever attached to the movement or to the Symphony by the composer.

The Allegro vivace finale is happy and triumphant in its luminous main theme, and features a lushly orchestrated, beautiful alternate melody, similar in its ecstatic demeanor to several from the preceding movements. The coda brings on an all-conquering triumphant ending, resolving any lingering doubts spawned by the work's earlier darker elements.

A typical performance of the complete version of the Second Symphony, first movement repeat included, lasts about an hour. Many recordings up to the 1970s, and even a few years beyond, included cuts, eliminating as much as 20 minutes from the score. Rachmaninov himself had been convinced in the early '30s to make cuts in the work, and in the end sanctioned nearly 20 in all. Most performances and recordings of the work today are faithful to Rachmaninov's original score. ---Robert Cummings,


Sergei Rachmaninov - Utyos (The Rock), Op. 7. Rachmaninov graduated from the Moscow Conservatory in 1892 with the highest of honors, owing to the initial success of his opera Aleko, which served as his primary graduation exercise in composition. The Rock (or as it is also known, The Crag) was the first orchestral composition he completed following his student years.

Ostensibly, the inspiration of this composition was Chekhov's Along the way. But the composer indicated in the 1893 score that Lermontov's poem The Rock served that purpose. Because Rachmaninov acknowledged Chekhov as the inspiration in an 1898 inscription on a printed score, however, his work is generally believed to be the program source for The Rock.

The Chekhov work tells of two travelers, one a middle-aged man ("the giant rock") and the other an attractive young woman ("the golden cloud"), meeting on Christmas Eve in a roadside inn when they seek shelter from a blizzard. They develop feelings for each other, but the woman departs in a sleigh the next morning, with the man watching her in the distance as the snow covers him, making him appear like a "lonely white rock."

The work begins darkly and ponderously in the low strings, the young composer already displaying a fine sense for atmosphere. Quickly the mood brightens, the orchestration showing much color in the reeds and shimmering strings. A short, rather nondescript theme which vaguely evokes Borodin, is heard in the woodwinds, and then the tempo increases. After the material is repeated, the strings play the theme in an animated fashion, imparting more color and personality to it. The mood then turns hushed and mysterious. Eventually, the music intensifies and takes on a threatening character. This grim atmosphere soon leads to a powerful yearning passage on strings that ends with a gripping, dark climax of Tchaikovskian character. Thereafter the music remains in a gloomy, regretful haze.

The Rock was premiered March 20, 1894, in Moscow. While this piece is interesting and has many effective moments, it is not a major achievement and shows the composer's style still evolving. A typical performance of this work lasts about 15 minutes. ---Robert Cummings,

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]]> (bluesever) Great Russian Symphonies Fri, 03 Aug 2018 10:15:34 +0000
Great Russian Symphonies, Vol.5 (2012) Great Russian Symphonies, Vol.5 (2012)

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Dmitry Shostakovich - Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 47
1.I. Moderato	18:01
2.II. Allegretto	5:12
3.III. Largo	15:34
4.IV. Allegro non troppo	12:50

Sergey Prokofiev - Symphony No. 1 in D major, Op. 25, "Classical"
5.I. Allegro	4:50
6.II. Larghetto	4:42
7.III. Gavotte: Non troppo allegro	1:49
8.IV. Finale: Molto vivace	4:23

Ukraine National Symphony Orchestra (1-4)
Theodore Kuchar - conductor

Russian Philharmonic Orchestra (5-8)
Dmitry Yablonsky - conductor


In 1936, the Soviet government launched an official attack against Dmitri Shostakovich's music, calling it "vulgar, formalistic, [and] neurotic." He became an example to other Soviet composers, who rightfully interpreted these events as a broad campaign against musical modernism. This constituted a crisis, both in Shostakovich's career and in Soviet music as a whole; composers had no choice but to write simple, optimistic music that spoke directly (especially through folk idioms and patriotic programs) to the people and glorified the state.

In light of these circumstances, Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony (first performed in 1937) is a bold composition that seems to fly in the face of his critics. Although the musical language is pared down from that of his earlier symphonies, the Fifth eschews any hint of a patriotic program and, instead, dwells on undeniably somber and tragic affects -- wholly unacceptable public emotions at the time. According to the cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, the government would certainly have had Shostakovich executed for writing such a work had the public ovation at the first performance not lasted 40 minutes. The official story, however, is quite different. An unknown commentator dubbed the symphony "the creative reply of a Soviet artist to justified criticism," and to the work was attached an autobiographical program focusing on the composer's metamorphosis from incomprehensible formalist to standard-bearer of the communist party. Publicly, Shostakovich accepted the official interpretation of his work; however, in the controversial collection of his memoirs (Testimony, by Solomon Volkov) he is quoted as saying: "I think it is clear to everyone what happens in the Fifth. The rejoicing is forced, created under have to be a complete oaf not to hear that."

Regardless of its philosophical underpinnings, Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5 is a masterpiece of the orchestral repertory, poignant and economical in its conception. There is no sign of the excess of ideas so common in the Fourth Symphony. Instead, Shostakovich deploys the orchestra sparingly and allows the entire work to grow naturally out of just a few motives. Given some of his earlier works, the Fifth is conservative in language. Throughout the work he allows the strings to be the dominant orchestral force, making soloistic use of the woodwinds and horn especially effective. The Moderato begins with a jagged, foreboding canon in the strings that forms the motivic basis for the entire movement. The impassioned mood is occasionally interrupted by a lyrical melody with string ostinato, later the subject of a duet for flute and horn.

The second movement (Allegretto) is a grotesque 3/4 dance which, at times, can't help but mock itself; the brass section is featured prominently. The following Largo, a sincere and personal outpouring of musical emotion, is said to have left the audience at the work's premiere in tears. Significantly, it was composed during an intensely creative period following the arrest and execution of one of Shostakovich's teachers.

The concluding Allegro non troppo has been the center of much debate: some critics consider it a poorly constructed concession to political pressure, while others have made note of its possible irony. While the prevailing mood is triumphant, there is some diversion to the somber and foreboding, and it is not until the end that it takes on the overtly "big-finishy" character for which it is so noted. ---Allen Schrott,


Prokofiev's Symphony No. 1 (1916-17) represents the composer's earliest mature effort in a genre he returned to time and again for the remainder of his career. Though the symphony received a warm reception in Russia and abroad -- and remains one of the composer's most frequently programmed works -- Prokofiev's attitude toward it remained ambiguous, vacillating between dismissive and defensive.

The First Symphony is especially intriguing in light of the view of Prokofiev as a leading figure of the Russian avant-garde in the early decades of the twentieth century. The work's anachronistic "Classical" moniker seems particularly apt in respect to a number of its features. The symphony is in a familiar four-movement form, the two fast outer movements (Allegro and Vivace, respectively) bracketing a slow movement (Larghetto) and one inspired by a stylized dance (Gavotto); its textures are economical, its scoring appropriate to an orchestra of the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century; and it is of a decidely lighthearted, even humorous character, much in the spirit of the symphonies of Haydn. Indeed, it should be noted that the "Classical" subtitle was Prokofiev's own; scholar R.D. Darell has suggested that the composer may have chosen it partly to describe the work's character, partly because he hoped that the work would one day become a classic, and partly out of pure mischief directed at critics. (In regard to the last, Prokofiev wrote that he meant to "tease the geese.")

Though the symphony is at times sharply dissonant, it maintains a steadfastly tonal basis. Certainly, the "Classical" model is stretched in the work's harmonic language, which is marked by Prokofiev's characteristic ambiguous cadences and sudden shifts between tonal centers. Still, the work retains many of the trappings of Viennese Classicism, from the sonata-allegro form of the first movement, to the Mozartean gavotte and trio of the third, to the exuberant, witty finale. Despite the suggestion of its title, the "Classical" Symphony is not really neo-Classical along the lines of contemporaneous works by Stravinsky, but rather a work of elegant simplicity that evokes the spirit of high Viennese Classicism filtered through the more adventurous sensibilities of Prokofiev's own musical language. ---Alexander Carpenter,

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]]> (bluesever) Great Russian Symphonies Fri, 29 Jun 2018 13:50:23 +0000
Great Russian Symphonies, Vol.6 (2012) Great Russian Symphonies, Vol.6 (2012)

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Dmitry Shostakovich - Symphony No. 7 in C major, Op. 60 'Leningrad'

1 	Allegretto		25:48 	
2 	Moderato (Poco allegretto)		11:25 	
3 	Adagio		18:04 	
4 	Allegro non troppo		19:56 	

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Vasily Petrenko - conductor


It is impossible to deny the overwhelming impact Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7 had on its listeners in 1942. Written by Shostakovich after he had been transported out of his besieged hometown of Leningrad, the Seventh is a patriotic hymn to his city and country and a rallying cry to the foes of fascism. Its premiere in the U.S.S.R. was world news, and the securing its first performance rights in the West was contested by Toscanini, Stokowski, and Koussevitzky. Toscanini won, and the work was rapturously received and repeatedly performed. But even before the war had ended, the exalted position of the "Leningrad" Symphony had slipped, and commentators in the West derided it as pompous and prosaic. The symphony, rehabilitated from being a patriotic piece to being a subversive piece based on the purported testimony of Shostakovich, only later received regular performances in the West. The truth is that Shostakovich's Seventh is an enormous piece for a gargantuan orchestra set in four vast movements lasting more than 70 minutes in performances. Its opening Allegretto, nearly half an hour in length, has proud and determined C major themes at its start and close and a central section that takes a theme from Offenbach and turns it into a massive ostinato that overwhelms the C major themes with its brutal banality. This is followed by a haunted Moderato of plucked strings and screeching woodwinds and by a vast Adagio with stirring strings and bold brass. The closing Allegro non troppo returns to the monumental style of the opening movement with grand and glorious themes culminating in an interminable C major climax. The truth is that the Seventh is a work of banal themes and bombastic climaxes, but Shostakovich's imagination and discipline have fused the banal and bombastic into an overwhelming musical work. ---James Leonard,

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]]> (bluesever) Great Russian Symphonies Sat, 07 Jul 2018 14:49:24 +0000
Great Russian Symphonies, Vol.9 (2012) Great Russian Symphonies, Vol.9 (2012)

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Alexander Scriabin - Symphony No. 3, 'Le Poeme Divin' 
1.  I. Lento 00:01:36
2.  II. Luttes (Struggles) 00:25:37
3.  III. Voluptes (Delights) 00:13:44
4.  IV. Jeu divin (Divine Play) 00:11:10

5. Alexander Scriabin - La Poeme de l'extase (The Poem of Extasy), Op. 54, "Symphony No. 4" 00:24:10 

Moscow Symphony Orchestra
Dmitri Lokalenkov - soloist
Igor Golovschin - conductor


Scriabin's Symphony No. 3 is the first of the composer's major orchestral works to bear explicit extramusical intent. The titles appended to each movement are as colorful as the music itself : "Luttes" (Struggles), "Voluptes" (Pleasures), and "Jeu divin" (Divine Play). The work's performance instructions go well beyond the traditional Allegro or Andante; here, markings such as "mysterieux," "tragique," and "sublime" appear in Scriabin's orchestral music for the first time. These indications represent far more than superficial descriptions; indeed, they demonstrate the struggle Scriabin and his contemporaries faced in trying to express the turbulent emotions of their music in conventional terms. In the program notes for the premiere, Scriabin noted that his "Divine Poem" represents the growth of the human spirit as it is freed from legends and mysteries, passes through pantheism, and ultimately affirms its liberty and unity with the universe.

"Luttes" is meant to represent the conflict between man enslaved by another God versus man himself in the role of God himself. It opens with an ominous theme in the brass; the strings soon enter with an agitated minor-mode motive that gradually migrates toward a theme in the major mode. From this point, there is no longer any solid sense of tonality, and shifts between major and minor occur suddenly and frequently. Dynamic levels are similarly in constant flux, and at times it seems as though climaxes spring up every few measures. Nevertheless, Scriabin's mastery is such that he is able to bind this long movement into a cohesive whole despite its inescapably episodic nature. "Voluptes" is pure sonic sensuality. From a quiet opening of saccharine music for winds and strings, the movement gradually builds into an expression of unbridled, powerful sensuality. This movement leads without interruption into "Jeu divin," where the spirit, freed from submission to a higher power, relinquishes itself to the supreme joy of a free existence. This is rich and richly exciting music, characterized by a torrent of unpredictable changes of mood. The work ends, with a note of gentle ecstasy, on a Brahmsian final chord. Though the work clearly lacks the maturity of later masterpieces like the Poem of Ecstasy (1905-08) or Prometheus (1908-10), it is still a highly individual and worthy effort that provides a fascinating glimpse into the development of Scriabin's singular aesthetic. ---John Dobson,


During the decade immediately preceding the First World War, the European musical scene was developing at an astonishing pace. Schoenberg moved from the massive, two-hour-long Gurrelieder, with its epic Romantic text and equally lush score, to the concise and stringent Piano Pieces, Op. 11 in a matter of just eight years, while by 1913 Stravinsky was ready to unveil his Rite of Spring. Although Scriabin stayed apart from these developments, his extraordinary innovations during the first decade of the century are at the very heart of this musical realignment. Although generally regarded as a composer for the piano, Scriabin is the author of five large-scale orchestral works (all composed between about 1900 and 1910) that showcase his revolutionary artistic genius in much the same way that the piano sonatas do. In Le poème de l'extase (Poem of Ecstasy), Op. 54, of 1908, the journey towards complete atonality and thematic fragmentation is by no means complete (the real musical goal would not be reached until the final few sonatas), but enough of the composer's increasingly complex mystical and theosophical views saturate the score to bring to it a density and complexity of expression denied to the three symphonies that precede it. It is a work that stands with great pride beside the massive German orchestral works of the period, both a mesmerizing portrait of those troubled years and, at the same time, a uniquely intimate picture of an artist's fascinating mind. The Poem was originally to take the shape of a fourth symphony, but Scriabin decided to cast it instead as a 20-minute orchestral poem based on his own Poem of Ecstasy, a 369-line poem celebrating and glorifying his own creative powers (which would, according to his vision of reality, play a crucial role in the approaching transformation of the world). The orchestra is large -- twice the classical contingent of winds and brass are required -- and, unlike Mahler or Schoenberg, who used even greater forces than this, by no means sparingly used. Although Scriabin's orchestral experience was limited, he was one of the early twentieth century's masters of orchestration, and throughout the Poem of Ecstasy his orchestral writing is brilliant. Themes are used to delineate mental and emotional states (in this way the late orchestral works are quite unlike the late piano works, which employ an almost exclusively textural and harmonic narrative structure). At the opening, the flute gesture searches longingly, the clarinet dreams, and the trumpet foretells a still-distant victory. An equestrian stride commences, only to be abruptly halted to make room for an ardent violin solo. As the many levels of expression unfold the music is highly chromatic, but not particularly dissonant. A glorious climax draws the music to an appropriately ecstatic finish in C major -- a key that had, for Scriabin, a cleansing and focusing quality. ---Blair Johnston,

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]]> (bluesever) Great Russian Symphonies Fri, 17 Aug 2018 14:47:11 +0000