NIKOLAY ROSLAVETS: Chamber Symphony; In the hours of the New Moon – BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/ Ilan Volkov – Hyperion

by | Jan 17, 2007 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

NIKOLAY ROSLAVETS: Chamber Symphony; In the hours of the New Moon – BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/ Ilan Volkov – Hyperion CDA67484, 67:38 **** [Distr. Harmonia mundi]:

Leave it to Hyperion to come up with another first-class presentation of forgotten but fascinating music.  Nikolay Roslavets was a remarkable figure in Russian music in the early 20th century, and he lived until 1944. He was born in the Ukraine, was accepted in his youth at the Moscow Conservatory, and quickly became associated with Russia’s avantgarde of music. Futurism, Symbolism and other new artistic approaches colored his music, which in some works shows a strong influence of late Scriabin.

Unfortunately, a major change in Soviet cultural policies occurred in the last 1920s, and in 1929 Roslavets was denounced as “an enemy of the people” and had to publicly repent of his artistic convictions. To remedy his aberrant ways he tried writing popular operettas, and later ballets based on Uzbek folk music, but failed at both efforts.

The 12-minute symphonic poem In the house of the New Moon is a work composed in 1910 while he was still in the Moscow Conservatory. It uses a large orchestra and clearly shows similarities to Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy, as well as the French Impressionists, Richard Strauss and Franz Schreker. Shimmering sonic fabrics flow into powerfully ecstatic climaxes, often with dancelike rhythms predominating. (As a Scriabin nut, I loved it. What a sonic discovery!)

The Chamber Symphony of 1935 receives it premiere recording here. Roslavets’ most important symphonic work, it is scored for only 18 players. The four-movement work is quite a contrast to the earlier impressionistic Nw Moon. Although Roslavets developed a harmonic technique somewhat like Schoenberg’s 12-Tone system – using “synthetic chords” – it wasn’t used in the Symphony.  However, the work is extremely chromatic and the various themes which return in most of the movements are closely related to one another in a sort of anxiety-prone version of Franck’s cyclical construction. The Symphony shows agreement with some of Schoenberg’s techniques, along with elements of Russian folk music, sardonic elements a la Prokofieff, and even some jazzy riffs such as found in Weill and Eisler, as well as occasionally in early Shostakovich.  The ten-minute Scherzo is a brilliant tour de force which I have listened to several times now by itself.  The fantastic dance reminds one of Stravinsky’s Firebird in spots, and generally I have a picture of it accompanying an animated fairy tale in a film such as Disney’s Fantasia.

The performance, under a young Russian conductor, is superb in every way, and Hyperion’s engineering is some of the best on standard CD today.  Highly recommended to the orchestrally curious!

 – John Sunier

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