KHRENNIKOV: Three Symphonies – Evgeny Svetlanov/ USSR State Symphony Orchestra – Scribendum

by | Jul 26, 2005 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

KHRENNIKOV: Three Symphonies – Evgeny Svetlanov/USSR State Symphony Orchestra

Scribendum SC 029  74:05  (Distrib. Silver Oak)****:

Composer Tikhon Khrennikov (b. 1913) enjoys his fame, or rather
notoriety, from his 1948-1991 leadership of the Union of Soviet
Composers, a Stalin-driven political division of music which singularly
condemned Prokofiev, Khachaturian, Shebalin, Miaskovsky, and
Shostakovich as having written anti-populist compositions. In all
fairness, Khrennikov was as much a pawn of Stalin as anyone else; and
Dimitry Paperno claims that of all those involved in the arts,
musicians likely suffered least, perhaps even due to Khrennikov”s
intercession in their behalf. Nevertheless, Khrennikov became
identified with an arch-conservative, highly imitative style of
composition that found its true medium in film scores but whose
symphonic ambitions merely echoed the works of more gifted

The three symphonies (1936-c. 1972) each receive vivid, even thrilling
realizations from Svetlanov (1928-2002) and his virtuoso USSR players.
The inscriptions date from 1973 and 1978 (Symphony No. 2, Op. 9). The
First Symphony, Op. 4, sounds an eclectic blend of Prokofiev’s irony,
Shostakovich’s wit from his own Op. 10 Symphony, and a bit of nostalgia
courtesy of Kalinnikov. There is a clear sense of melody, but nothing
that possesses the folkish ethos that guarantees immortality in the
manner of Borodin or Tchaikovsky. Rhythmic finesse seems the order of
the day, with brassy interjections that never seem to go beyond what
Prokofiev had managed by the time he composed the Scythian Suite. The
Second Symphony (1942) is a big, wartime effort which might be compared
favorably to the Shostakovich Leningrad Symphony. Darkly martial in
character, it does sport a lovely second movement that likes to feature
the solo violin, a favorite Khrennikov sentimental ploy. The Third
Symphony, Op. 22, at first attacks us anachronistically in the style of
Stravinsky’s primitivist energies, only to compromise its influences
and settle for riffs we can find better honed in Prokofiev’s Romeo and
Juliet. The terse, often canonical writing might parallel something in
Sibelius’ Karelia, but it still sounds like Shostakovich serving weak
tea. Still, the brilliant orchestral service from Svetlanov more than
once convinces us that the standard repertory could bear more frequent
inclusions of this hectic if pedestrian music.

–Gary Lemco

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