KALINNIKOV: “Symphonic Works” = Symphonies Nos. 1 in g minor & 2 in A Major; Intermezzi Nos. 1 in A Major & 2 in G Major; Serenade for Strings; Nymphs; Bylina Overture; The Cedar and the Palm; “Suite;” Incidental Music to “Tsar Boris” – USSR State Academic Sym. Orch./ Evgeny Svetlanov – Melodiya (3 CDs)

by | May 20, 2013 | Classical Reissue Reviews

VASILY KALINNIKOV: “Symphonic Works” = Symphonies Nos. 1 in g minor & 2 in A Major; Intermezzi Nos. 1 in A Major & 2 in G Major; Serenade for Strings; Nymphs; Bylina Overture; The Cedar and the Palm; “Suite;” Incidental Music to “Tsar Boris” – USSR State Academic Sym. Orch./ Evgeny Svetlanov – Melodiya MEL CD 1001995 (3 CDs) (10/15/12) [Distr. by Allegro] ****:

Kalinnikov was not the greatest Russian composer ever but does have a place in their musical history. He was a policeman’s son, suffered from TB much of his later life and died in Yalta, where he had gone for the warmer climate, at only age 35. His First Symphony, which opens these three discs, established his reputation around 1895. The work is lyrical, heart-warming and tonal, and makes much use of Russian folk song. The work uses cyclic principles. The symphony was a success all over Europe and Toscanini conducted it in an NBC Symphony broadcast in 1943, but RCA didn’t release it on records.

Kalinnikov’s Symphony No. 2 may remind some listeners of Borodin’s No. 2, with a similar broad epic range and melodies. It was overshadowed by the First Symphony. Kalinnkov himself said he was skeptical about program music, yet that is what Nymphs and The Cedar and the Palm really are. The latter is a “symphonic picture” based on a Heinrich Heine poem, and the composer thought it was the best composition he ever created. It included his impressions of a trip he had made to the French Riviera earlier, and portrays a dream of happiness and pure ideals.

It’s strange that the opener of the third CD carries only the simple title Suite. This four-movement work of 1891-92 was his first orchestral work to show his sincerity and reliance on Russian folk song. Tchaikovsky wrote to the composer that he had really liked it. Kalinnikov’s incidental music for Tolstoy’s tragedy Tsar Boris marked the end of his music career. The play only ran for nine performances, but the music is rich and dramatically expressive, standing well by itself.

Svetlanov seemed to be trying during his lifetime to commit to recordings all the Russian orchestral music he could possibly get his hands on.  Some, such as Kalinnikov, he was an expert at; others—such as Scriabin—he didn’t quite have the hang of. What impressed me most about these new Melodiya repressings, from Soviet master tapes of 1968 all the way thru 1989, was that they are quite tolerable to listen to, without the serious stridency and artificial added reverb of most of the terrible Soviet-era Melodiya recordings. Perhaps some of these faults were minimized in the new remasterings. Altogether an interesting set to have for fans of obscure Russian orchestral music. Melodiya now offers several similar multi-CD Svetlanov sets of orchestral works of Borodin, Arensky, Tchaikovsky and others.

—John Sunier

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