Kabalevsky’s light, melodious touch is well displayed in these three orchestral suites, whose content coincides exactly on the two records. His best-known piece remains the overture to Colas Breugnon (three more pieces from the opera are included), and this is played with a certain amount of verve by Jelvakov and the Moscow Symphony Orchestra; Tjeknavorian takes it a little more slowly with the Armenian Philharmonic, but the extra clarity, which is also found in the recording itself, helps the liveliness.
Of the other music, the Galop from The Comedians, delivered rather more punchily by the Armenians than by the Muscovites, has become something of a popular hit in Russia. The play was written for a children’s theatre in 1939 by the Jewish playwright Mark Daniel, who died young the following year. It is on the unlikely subject of Johannes Gutenberg, and was originally entitled The Inventor and the Comedian; it includes some attractive pieces in Kabalevsky’s trouble-free vein of easily accessible music. His Shakespeare scores test his range a good deal further – they include Measure for Measure – and in this music for Romeo and Juliet he succeeds better with the sprightlier pieces than in the love music or with the death scene for the star-crossed lovers. There is a sombre movement for Friar Laurence that has a half-allusion to Tchaikovsky’s Fantasy-Overture; this is played gravely by Jelvakov, but with intensity and a sense of doom by Tjeknavorian, who also gives the death scene a stronger atmosphere of tragedy and mourning.
These latter pieces sit a little uneasily with the predominantly bright, cheery music; but without knowing more about the nature of the production, staged in 1956 for the theatre named in honour of one of Russia’s great pioneers of the twentieth-century theatre, Yevgeny Vakhtangov, or even whether there is more music that did not fit into a suite, it is unfair to question the balance of the moods. What we have is some predominantly fresh and agreeable music, agreeably played especially by Tjeknavorian.
Gramophone, December 1996