The Eighth was previously recorded only once, on Marco Polo (8.223297) with Robert Stankovsky conducting the Czechoslovak Radio SO. This recording was made in 1989. Between the gloomy harmonic complexities of the Seventh and before the dissonances of the Ninth this represents an innocence and folk-like character woven with the essence of folksongs. The note mentions Rimsky-Korsakov's volume One Hundred Russian Folk Songs. The Slavonic striving, toil and turmoil are painted in characteristic style in both the first and fourth movements. After a stormy scherzo there comes a Ravel-like Adagio - a real gem with a succulent role for the cor anglais. The song, which is of Bashkiri origin, is sad and lovely perhaps rather Bax-Irish too. This is the movement that will have you coming back for more. The last movement ends with some thunderous smashing impacts which are allowed to resonate freely - half reflective of the end of Rachmaninov's First Symphony. The premiere of this work was given in Moscow on 23 May 1926 conducted by Konstantin Saradzhev.
The one-movement Tenth was premiered by the conductorless orchestra, Persimfans on 2 April 1928. Miaskovsky wrote it after his one and only journey outside the USSR when he went to Vienna to sign a contract with Universal Edition. It is a work of stress and turmoil, struggle and dissonant violence, rising from idyllic solo violin lines and resolved darkly with the skull visible behind the flesh of the face. This same dissatisfaction and striving also plays over Prokofiev's Third and Fourth Symphonies. Against the grain Svetlanov favours rapid tempi. He is 1.15 faster than HalŠsz on Marco Polo (8.223113) and about two minutes faster than Rabl on Orfeo C 496 991. Svetlanov grasps the close parallels with Sibelius's virtually contemporary Seventh Symphony in the short upward notes at the start. His is a defiant performance but his warm acoustic is not to be preferred to the transparently recorded Slovak Orchestra in a hall whose audio qualities I have had cause to praise every time I hear the Marco Polo Moyzes symphony series. Rabl's recording is rather congested by comparison.
Ultra-Romanticism, Soviet expressionism and an accessible rarity expand our appreciation of a prolific Russian
Readers following this fascinating series will know what to expect of the music-making here:
it is idiomatic, unhurried and, from time to time, disappointingly sketchy.
Like the Fifth and Sixth, the Eighth Symphony (1924-25) is a nationalistic epic, based on thematic material in Myaskovskyís most overtly appealing, Russian vein. And yet, notwithstanding some attempt to deploy the more colourful harmonic and instrumental palette of the Seventh, its ideas are developed in such a staid, academic manner that no real sense of momentum is generated. At least the piece can boast an exceptionally beautiful, if overlong, slow movement. Placed third, this unexpected take on Rachmaninovís Isle of the Dead often sounds like Bax at his most oriental. Whether youíll find the lapping, rocking motion seductive or merely soporific I cannot predict. Safer to say that Robert Stankovskyís Slovakian recording (listed above) is effectively outclassed, not least because he offers no coupling.
Svetlanovís makeweight is the Tenth (1927), an altogether more concentrated statement in which the sprawling Scriabinesque supernova has imploded into a dissonant white dwarf. Its single movement dispenses with obvious melody, presumably affected by Prokofievís brand of Parisian modernism albeit with Cťsar Franck, Scriabin and even Schoenberg lurking somewhere in the mix.
Tumultuous in every sense, while simultaneously reluctant to cut loose from Conservatoire norms, the score is neither an easy listen nor an easy play. Odd that it should have been intended for the conductorless Persimfans, a sort of ideologically motivated Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. Svetlanovís Russians, despite limited rehearsal time, make a better fist of it than did Gottfried Rablís Viennese forces. Only donít expect the composerís patented autumnal glow: this is Russian-Soviet expressionism, sombre, stormy and oppressive.
Gramophone, April 2003