Sunday, June 5, 2016

Miaskovsky: Symphonies Nos. 16 and 21 (Ivanov)

Nikolai Miaskovsky
In recent years, the music of Nikolai Yakovlevich Miaskovsky (1881-1950) - or, to give the currently preferred transliteration of his surname, Myaskovsky (I still prefer the old one, merely because it doesn't relegate him to the back of the alphabet within the group of composers whose names start with "M") - seems to have made something of a comeback after many years of Cold War-era neglect. During his lifetime, his symphonies were regularly performed in the West, particularly by the Chicago Symphony under Frederick Stock, who not only programmed his epic Sixth on a yearly basis, but also commissioned the single-movement Twenty-First, destined to become his best-known work (recorded by Ormandy and Morton Gould, among others). After his death, however, his essentially conservative style became passé, and he became known merely as the composer who wrote more symphonies (27) than anyone else in the first half of the 20th century. A reassessment of his work became more feasible after Yevgeny Svetlanov undertook, in the wake of the Soviet Union's collapse, to record all of Miaskovsky's orchestral output, and while it's undeniably valuable to have this largess available, some of Svetlanov's performances don't quite measure up to earlier ones in those cases where comparisons are possible. There is evidence of haste in preparation and lack of rehearsal, and some of the tempi are glacially slow. A case in point: the earlier recording of his fine Sixteenth Symphony, conducted by Svetlanov's predecessor as director of the USSR State Symphony Orchestra, Konstantin Ivanov (1907-1984), takes 35½ minutes as opposed to Svetlanov's 46½:

Miaskovsky: Symphony No. 16 in F Major, Op. 39 and
Symphony No. 21 in F-Sharp Minor, Op. 51
Konstantin Ivanov conducting the USSR State Symphony Orchestra
Recorded in the early 1950s
Melodiya 33D 09415-16, one mono LP record
Link (FLAC files, 117.96 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 80.58 MB)

I can never think of Miaskovsky without also thinking of Richard Taruskin, who gave me my first copy of this LP when I was a teenager, one of several gifts from this brilliant man to encourage my budding interest in Russian music, one of his specialties as a musicologist. Dr. Taruskin was, earlier in his career, a fine viola da gamba player (as proven by a number of recordings he made as part of the Aulos Ensemble, for the Musical Heritage Society), and that was my personal connection with him, for the fraternity of gamba players is and always has been a close-knit one, and my mother, also a member of said fraternity, has been friends with Dr. Taruskin for over 40 years. He, in fact, encouraged her to write and publish a viola da gamba method, which she did in 1979. The last time we saw him was about seven years ago, when he came to Atlanta to give a lecture at Emory, and almost his first words to me were about the Svetlanov Miaskovsky series. He seemed somewhat rueful about the notoriety he has gained as a music critic, something well in the future at the time I first knew him. I, like countless others before and since, have known Richard Taruskin as a mentor and teacher, and a great one.


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  2. Thanks for this gem under a so great conductor !

  3. Glad to see this post I've been on a Russian binge lately and now it can continue! :)

  4. Thank you for making this available. I've had a soft spot for this composer ever since hearing his Cello Concerto.

  5. This will be interesting.

    I just last week attended a performance of his Sinfonietta No.2, very enjoyable although ultimately, alas, not very memorable. (No.3 is better, which I heard a few years ago).

    Fingers crossed and thanks.