NIKOLAI MIASKOVSKY: Intégrale des symphonies (Complete Symphonies & other works) – Eugeny Svetlanov cond. State Symphonic Orchestra of the Russian Federation or Symphony Orchestra of the USSR – Warner Music/Rhino #35 (16 CD boxed set)

by | Jun 24, 2009 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

NIKOLAI MIASKOVSKY: Intégrale des symphonies (Complete Symphonies & other works) – Eugeny Svetlanov cond. State Symphonic Orchestra of the Russian Federation or Symphony Orchestra of the USSR – Warner Music/Rhino #35 (16 CD boxed set) ****1/2:

Miaskovsky was discouraged from a musical career by his parents and went into the military, but hearing a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony made him determined to be a composer. During the 1920s and 30s he was the leading Soviet composer and is often referred to a the father of the Soviet symphony. He was a longtime professor at the Moscow Conservatory and among his students were Khachaturian, Kabalevsky, Shchedrin and Boris Tchaikovsky.  In 1935 CBS Radio asked its classical listeners to rate their top ten favorite composers and Miaskovsky was one of them.  Like Haydn, Bach and Mozart he created a huge catalog of music, and died in 1950. He was highly acclaimed by Shostakovich at his death. His earlier works show some influence of Scriabin and even Schoenberg, but as time developed he was attacked by the Soviet authorities just as Shostakovich and the other Russian composers and he became more conservative.  So much so that he was awarded the Stalin Prize six times – more than any other composer.  While upholding the traditions of Russian music, he was not known for experimentalism but retained his own type of individualism in clearly tonal and communicative music. His symphonies around Nos. 10 thru 13 are the most experimental of his orchestral works. He avoided giving in to the pressures of the Soviet cultural authorities and seldom engaged in programmatic/propagandistic works as even Prokofiev and Shostakovich felt forced to do (though he did write a song for the Red Air Force).

This boxed set (now distributed by Rhino since Warner Classics is no more) is a unique collection; Maestro Svetlanov (who died in 2002) was one of the most active and popular Soviet conductors and made over 300 recordings during his lifetime.  He devoted a great deal of time and money to his “Anthology of Russian Music,” which has never been totally published. Between 1991 and 1993 he put together a massive project recording every one of the Miaskovsky’s 27 symphonies plus many of his other orchestral works.  It is thought that due to the chaotic conditions at that time, as the USSR was crumbling, Svetlanov ended up financing the whole project himself! Some of the symphonies became available individually in the West starting in 2001, but this is first time all 27 symphonies have been reissued in one set.  There are no credits for the remastering engineers involved in the set, but the sonics are a great improvement on the Soviet Melodiya recordings of the 50s and 60s. They don’t have the horrible sonic fingerprint of having been recorded in a completely dead small radio studio and then having artificial reverb laid on them with a leaden hand. I would say they are close to present-day standards if not hi-res.  Also, the engineers have put from 75 to 80 minutes on every CD, usually combining two symphonies per disc; otherwise even more CDs would have been required.

Readers probably won’t be surprised at my admittance that I didn’t have time to audition all 27 symphonies.  I had a few other Miaskovsky symphonies in my collection but hadn’t heard them in some time. I was impressed by the variety and emotional communication of these works – they definitely do not follow a cookie-cutter design. Some of the symphonies are compact single-movement works, while others are lengthy and turbulent statements.  I would suggest starting with the 4th and 5th symphonies, which are highly contrasted with one another. They were created during a very difficult time in the composer’s life – he had been wounded and suffered shell-shock in World War I and his ex-Tsarist general father had been murdered by the Red Army. The fourth movement of the Fifth Symphony is an amazing statement. No. 6 in E Flat minor is Miaskovsky’s longest, his only choral symphony, was inspired by the events of the Russian Revolution, and in its finale quotes not only French revolutionary tunes but also the Dies Irae.  This set is a very worthwhile tribute to the heritage of Miaskovsky and Svetlanov and should appeal strongly to completists among fans of Russian concert music.



    * No. 1 in C minor, Op. 3 (1908, rev. 1921)
    * No. 2 in C sharp minor, Op. 11 (1911)
    * No. 3 in A minor, Op. 15 (1914)
    * No. 4 in E minor, Op. 17 (1918)
    * No. 5 in D major, Op. 18 (1919)
    * No. 6 in E flat minor, Op. 23 (1923)
    * No. 7 in B minor, Op. 24 (1922)
    * No. 8 in A major, Op. 26 (1925)
    * No. 9 in E minor, Op. 28 (1927)
    * No. 10 in F minor, Op. 30 (1927)
    * No. 11 in B flat minor, Op. 34 (1932)
    * No. 12 in G minor, Op. 35 (1932) Kolkhoznaya (Collective Farm)
    * No. 13 in B flat minor, Op. 36 (1933)
    * No. 14 in C major, Op. 37 (1933)
    * No. 15 in D minor, Op. 38 (1934)
    * No. 16 in F major, Op. 39 (1934) known at the time as the Aviation Symphony
    * No. 17 in G sharp minor, Op. 41 (1937)
    * No. 18 in C major, Op. 42 (1937)
    * No. 19 in E flat major, Op. 46 (1939) for wind orchestra
    * No. 20 in E major, Op. 50 (1940)
    * No. 21 in F sharp minor, Op. 51 (1940)
    * No. 22 in B minor, Op. 54 (1941) Symphony-Ballad
    * No. 23 in A minor, Op. 56 (1941) Symphony-Suite on Kabardanian Themes
    * No. 24 in F minor, Op. 63 (1943)
    * No. 25 in D flat major, Op. 69 (1946, rev. 1949)
    * No. 26 in C major, Op. 79 (1948) Symphony on Russian Themes
    * No. 27 in C minor, Op. 85 (1949)

Other “Filler” Works:

Hulpigung’s Overture Op. 4
Slav rhapsody in D minor Op. 71
Pathetic Overture in C minor Op. 76
Silence – f minor Op. 9
Serenade No. 1 Op. 32
Concerto lirico in G Major Op. 32, No. 3
Links Op. 65
Divertissement Op. 80
Alastor (Poem after Shelley) C minor Op. 14

 – John Sunier

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