Alto has taken up where Olympia left off in their series of Myaskovsky symphonies conducted by Evgeny Svetlanov. At a total number of 27, Myaskovsky's cycle of symphonies is probably the largest cycle of symphonies that consistently holds very high quality (partially, perhaps, because Myaskovsky, despite the number of symphonies (+ 3 Sinfoniettas), 13 string quartet and 9 piano sonatas, weren't really an excessively prolific composer - there is no music for the stage, for instance, and indeed relatively little music outside of these three cycles). It would be appropriate if someone dared launch a competing complete cycle as well - not that Svetlanov's is anything but thoroughly satisfying, but this is music of (for a large part) such high quality that it would very much sustain alternative approaches.
The fifteenth symphony, in d minor, was composed in 1934 and is not among his best-known, but it is a thoroughly characteristic work of high quality and a sustained high level of inspiration. Cast in four movements, the tonal language is darkly and deeply nostalgic - and to a larger extent than in many of his works directly inspired by folk-music - in a manner anyone familiar with his music would recognize. The opening movement contrasts said nostalgia - and moments of glittering beauty - with outbursts of tremendous, aggressive power (yet it is, in the end, a finely shaped convincingly argued movement). The second movement is bleak and almost frightening, like a desolate, post-apocalyptic image; the third is an energetic waltz and the final movement a blazing tour de force developing from a pastoral opening. The tonal language is clearly indebted to Tchaikovsky but can hardly be called derivative. The symphony also packs a real punch, and even though only a few of the themes are perhaps really memorable, the impact of the work as a whole is less easily forgotten. The performance is colorful, poignant and powerful, and only a little rough around the edges.
Competition is fiercer in the valedictory, autumnal 27th symphony from 1948 - deservedly so, for this is something of a masterpiece. Svetlanov surely brings out the lyrical, reflective properties of the score, and adds a fiery undercurrent that is missing from some competitors (yet there is a strong case to be made for Polyansky's mellower version for Chandos). The first movement is darkly colored but manages to exude flashes of brilliance (like the radiance of the sun during an eclipse, if I were to go poetic) before ending in a whitehot frenzy. The Adagio is sad and rainy from the beginning - beautifully poignant, in fact - snf turns into an agile march before returning to reflective quietude. The finale is fierce (after a slower opening with undercurrents of urgency), full of momentum, bashful but full of gorgeous colors nonetheless.
The sound quality is just a little sharp, but generally detailed and well-balanced. This is, in short, an excellent disc - essential for those who are already collecting the series, of course, but a fine entryway to Myaskovsky's music for those who are yet unfamiliar with it. Do hear it in any case.