23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great Symphonist of the 20th Century now available to all
Until fairly recently Symphonies 4, 14 and 20 were a mystery even to musicologists in the West. Svetlanov's huge 1990's project (rumoured to be at least partly funded from his own pocket) has now made the symphonies of this great Russian composer immediately available. At the present time because of supply difficulties as the Olympia discs go out of circulation and the...
Published on 10 Dec 2008 by Colin Fortune
0 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars POOR SOUND IN GENERAL
IN THE BOOTLEG THERE IS NO INFORMATION ABOUT RECORDING DATES AND THE SOUND IN A LOT OF THE RECORDINGS IS QUITE POOR.
Published on 9 Jun 2011 by about
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great Symphonist of the 20th Century now available to all,
Until fairly recently Symphonies 4, 14 and 20 were a mystery even to musicologists in the West. Svetlanov's huge 1990's project (rumoured to be at least partly funded from his own pocket) has now made the symphonies of this great Russian composer immediately available. At the present time because of supply difficulties as the Olympia discs go out of circulation and the Alto discs come available, this is probably the best way to buy the music, and it comes out at about £2.63 per disc. The disadvantage is that there are hardly any notes about the composer or his works. If you are reading this you will have access to the internet, so if you put the composer's name into a search engine it will not take you too long to come up with a reasonable amount of information from Wikipedia and from the Myaskovsky home page. But I am still left wondering about some issues. For example, is the magnificent 3 Symphony with its Scriabinesque trumpet writing actually a requiem for that composer (the last seven or eight minutes of the finale are a wonderful funeral march)? Or is a a funeral for a world about to be destroyed (it was written in 1914)? Whatever, this particular symphony is a work of undoubted greatness and is one of the highpoints of the whole cycle.
Given the cumulative distress and pain of the Great War years for Myaskovsky - the shell shock and wounds of the Austrian front - closely followed by service in the Red Army during the Revolutionary War, the murder of his father on a railway platform by a "revolutionary" who became angry because the old man was wearing decorations and insignia from the Tsarist regime (he was, after all, General Myaskovsky), and the death of his aunt during the Petrograd famine of 1921, it is not surprising that the symphonies 4, 5 and 6 can be seen as a working out of the personal grief and anguish. This is an interpretation more in keeping with the composer's notion of his music as an expression of his deepest feelings. Symphony 7, which shares some thematic material with the slow movement of Symphony 6, is a 25 minute epilogue to this particular "period"of Myaskovsky's writing.
Symphonies 1 - 3 are "youthfully lugubrious" works and 4 - 7 works that take us up to 1925 and lay to rest the demons of national and personal tragedy (Symphony 6 is presented here in the alternative non-choral version so purchase of the very fine Dmitri Liss performance with chorus, coupled with Symphony 10 is recommended Myaskovsky - Symphonies Nos 6 and 10).
Symphony 8 is broadly based on the story of Stenka Razin; Symphony 9 is remarkable for the consonant dischords that make up the first movement; Symphony 10 is a one movement 16 minute work inspired by the illustrations to Pushkin's narrative poem "The Bronze Horseman"; Symphony 11 another "private work" and Symphony 12 is subtitled "Collective Farm". Symphony 13 is another tensely argued one-movement work.
By the 1930's Myaskovsky was writing, broadly speaking, "populist" even-numbered symphonies probably to satisfy the Stalinist regime and "personal" odd numbered ones. The 1931 "Collective Farm" Symphony 12 is based on a sychophantic poem and NOT on the realities of the raging Ukranian famine of the same year. But how much did Myaskovsky actually know, living in a police state with all the media censored? The Symphony 12 is as much an exercise in past, present and future as it is anything else, and so it has an aspirational quality that rises above any narrow propagandist agenda. Similarly, the "Aviation Symphony" (number 16) is inspired by the heroism of Soviet airmen (the Aviators' March written by Myaskovsky for governmental purposes is a testiment to heroic endeavour) in the face of the crash of the huge airliner Maxim Gorky.
After 1933 the element of experimentation takes a back seat and one could say that there is a move towards consolidation of technique and idiom. Probably this was to avoid censure by the Party, though individual journalists attacked some of the works. Myaskovsky's life obviously shows some of the tensions and difficulties of a major - perhaps THE major - composer of the Soviet era in his relationships with the Government. His diaries show that he was appalled by many aspects of the Stalinist regime, and yet during his life he was awarded an unprecedented 6 Stalin prizes for his music! There are some symphonies that are lighter than others (notably number 19) but at his best his art is moving, subtle, noble and inventive. Myaskovsky did not innovate in matters of orchestration and did not move much beyond Scriabin or Rachmaninov - but then again Richard Strauss was another great composer who did wonderful things with the orchestral sounds he inherited.
Symphony 22 is his initial response to the German invasion and 23 is a "lighter" piece based on folk tunes from the area into which he evacuated. Symphonies 24 and 25 may be a good place to start, surprising enough as they are at the very pinnacle of the composer's invention, but Symphony 26 - sometimes known as the "Russian" - shows something of the distress of his final years where the Zhdanov decrees (1948) singled out Russian composers for a new period of brow-beating. Shostakovich and Kahachaturian (to name but two) made the right noises and were sufficiently "repentant" but Myaskovsky's remark that the Zhdanov affair was "...not historical but hysterical" and his holding aloof from the whole thing caused his censure and the withdrawal of much of his music from the Soviet concert hall. The 27 Symphony deals with deeper matters of life and death and moving manages to conclude optimistically.
The Zhdanov affair towards the end of Myaskovsky's life, coupled with the fact that he had no estate or family to oversee performances after his death, led to the sudden neglect of the music that not even his "rehabilitation" seems to have cured. We should remember that it came 10 years after the composer's death and over a decade after a total ban on performances of his works in the Soviet Union - a really damaging period of neglect. Yet here is a truly great symphonist and he is presented by a whole series of remarkably good discs by Svetlanov. Now we can hear how good the music is there seems little excuse not to buy this whilst it is still available.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An absolute must for lovers of Soviet music,
This is an important and indispensable issue, but praise requires some qualifications. To start with a warning, a purchaser must first check whether he's got all the right discs in the right sleeves (I, and others, found one disc replaced by a duplicate of another). And everyone's complaint is that the leaflet contains minimal information and several errors. Any listener will want to correlate the symphonies with what was going on at the time in the Soviet cultural world, for which he needs at the very least the dates of composition: these, however, can be easily found on the internet, as can also informative reviews of previous issues of the individual CDs.
How good are these works? They are never as good as Shostakovich at his best, and never as bad as Shostakovich at his worst. Despite superficial influence from Scriabin and other innovators, we rarely get far from the emotional and musical world of nineteenth-century Russian symphonism (the modernist Symphony 13 is the great exception). But this was the fruit not of prudent conformism but of a profound cultural identity, and if the later symphonies were less personal than the earlier ones, this does not mean that they were less sincere. He rarely surprises one, but he had a gift for creating music that is urgent and maintains a sense of direction.
It is interesting to compare Svetlanov's interpretations with those of Gauk, the leading Myaskovsky interpreter of the previous generation. Gauk caught the restraint and nobility in Myaskovsky's personality, while Svetlanov gives us passion and brio instead. As a result he holds one's attention in every single work (a notable achievement!), but it would be a mistake to regard these performances as 'definitive' or uniquely 'authentic'. They need to be supplemented by reissues of the best of the earlier Russian recordings.
38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Miaskovsky and Svetlanov: A Symphonic Feast,
Finally, the complete Miaskovsky symphonies, all 27 plus numerous extras, all in one box. This must have been a labour of love for Svetlanov, for this was a mammoth undertaking, one only sporadically available on different labels. Now Warner issue the full cycle and now you must buy it, if you are at all passionate about symphonic music.
Miaskovsky could do anything. One minute he offers familiar Russian melancholy, the next we seem to have been teleported to English countryside. He plumbs the depths of depression, before reclining in some Persian palace sipping wine and savouring the jasmine. Russified Wagner, proto-Shostakovich, Sibelian snow flurries, Gallic accents: it's all to be found in this amazing, deeply emotional and tremendously exciting symphonic corpus.
The problem is that Miaskovsky is a dreamer, dreaming of better worlds, so he utilizes whatever comes into his head, regardless of whether or not the sound is reminiscent of other composers. A musical history is created by someone drawing a line linking various composers. Miaskovsky may have been neglected because he wasn't deemed to be dramatically original or influential, but by heavens could be compose glorious music. Such deliciously varied music, here given wholehearted performances.
I seem him now as a Brahms figure for the Twentieth Century. Someone conscious of what had gone before, but whose musical imagination is unmistakably of his own time. If he is still an unknown quantity to you, nows the perfect time to explore this large and affordably priced symphonic continent.
Why four stars? The booklet is really poor, with little more than a track listing.
37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History's interesting & relevant, but let's talk about the style(s) of the music (PLUS a suggestion about the notes problem),
This is an indispensable purchase for those interested in the Russian or Soviet symphony, but Miaskovsky's vast "terra incognita" is more important as music than a statistic. His decision to stick to a conservative idiom during the musical upheavals of the 20th century makes him different from, not inferior to, say, Shostakovich or Stravinsky. A composer's worth has nothing to do with whether or not he is a stylistic weathervane, blown about by every passing fad. Miaskovsky took what he wanted, and left the rest alone.
In the last three months I have compulsively devoured this set four times. The very fact that the booklet notes are sketchy (one page!) has forced me to assess the music as music, separated from its political environment (although I am familiar with the basics of Soviet political and musical history). No one insists that the ONLY way of appreciating Beethoven is to consider him against a background of footnoted essays on the Napoleonic wars. Likewise, one is in danger of minimizing Soviet music to a mere soundtrack to history--to say nothing of ignoring its significance as a universal human statement--if one is preoccupied with searching for Stalin in every corner!
So what can the newcomer expect? Of the early works, it has been said that the harmony is Scriabinesque--but there is little, if any, of Scriabin's ecstatic flight. I am reminded more of early Zemlinsky and the hyper-charged expressionism of pre-atonal Schoenberg, testing tonality to its limits (No.10 is particularly drastic), as well as the Russian "futurists"--Roslavets, Mossolov, etc.
Later, the emotional tone becomes less angst-laden. Mostly, the music becomes more orthodoxly tonal, lushly "romantic," and even, at times, "bright". Still, Miaskovsky almost always has something important to say. He always retained his gift for steering a slow movement to a climax of exalted lyricism, or (usually) making a triumphant close convincing--and his "futurism" doesn't vanish completely. Also, he never stopped experimenting with the shape of the symphony. Most are in three or four movements, but there are a few in one or two, and even one in five!
Symphonies 18, 19 and 20 acquiesce to populist "Soviet optimism"--one had to placate the authorities in order to survive. However, Miaskovsky recovers his true voice in No.21. No.23 proves he could write a lightweight yet substantial work based on folk tunes, with deliciously novel harmony. The three so-called "Sinfoniettas" are also substantial, fully worthy to be counted among the symphonies, and most of the fillers are important works.
Throughout, there are homages to Tchaikovsky, Glazunov, Mussorgsky, Rimsky, etc. Yet, surprisingly, some later scores recall Delius and Elgar (Nos.25 and 27--these are masterpieces!). There are suggestions of Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Hindemith, Honegger and other "modernists" (No.14). A great deal of Miaskovsky might not be taken for "Russian music" at all. Some works (No.13 of 1933) even resemble dissonant American academicism of the 30's and 40's! However, no single style dominates. "Modernist" works jostle, cheek by jowl, with lushly romantic ones, in no particular order, and certainly not in predictable alternation. He is a stylistic chameleon, tremendously adept at assimilating influences into his own unique voice.
The booklet notes ARE inadequate (although George Calvin Foreman's dissertation is a great help--more about this below), and the track analysis is full of errors. I have tried to correct as much as I could with the help of Foreman's dissertation, Ikonnikov's "Soviet optimism"-slanted biography, and Groves's:
(Symphony) No.11 is in B-flat minor; in No.8 (on disc 4), the tempo indication for the finale is "Allegro deciso"; No.12 is subtitled "Collective Farm"; the "Symphony-Suite" on disc 10 is No.23; No.16 is subtitled "Aviation Symphony"; the duplicate "No.8" on disc 11 is really No.18; No.2 is in C-sharp minor; No.13 is in B-flat minor; in No.6, Svetlanov omits the optional chorus (Dudarova includes it); No.21 is in F-sharp minor; the "Serenade" on disc 14 is Op.32, No.1, NOT "No.1"; Sinfonietta No.2 is in B minor; the tempo indication for the third movement of Sinfonietta No.3 is "Andante elevato"; the "Hulpigung's Overture" on disc 11 is aka "Salutation Overture" and "Greetings Overture"--WHEW!
The story of Svetlanov funding some of these recordings after the fall of the Soviet Union is well-known. Now and then, there are "wild and wooly" moments (surely due to inevitably insufficient rehearsal time), but the overall standard of the playing is high, and Svetlanov is a tower of strength throughout. It seems unlikely that this set will have any real competition for a long time. Considering the present spotty availability of the Olympia and Alto releases, this is probably, for now, the most reliable way (and surely the least expensive) to acquire all of these CD's.
SCHOLAR'S NOTE! In 1981, George Calvin Foreman submitted his dissertation, "The Symphonies of Nikolai Yakovlivich Miaskovsky" to the University of Kansas. I was able to download it at a university library, although I'm not sure if it's available to the general public. At any rate, it is well over 400 pages, and discusses ALL of the symphonies--Ikonnikov stops at No.24. There are copious musical examples, and Foreman discusses the works in the context of Soviet history. The musical analyses probably get too technical for non-musicians, but there's plenty of other interesting stuff here. Perhaps with the current explosion of interest in this composer, the dissertation will be published! Anyway, it's well worth looking into.
As a parting shot, I doubt that those who dismiss Miaskovsky as "reactionary" would regard him any more favorably if he were a satellite of Shostakovich, Stravinsky or Webern. He is himself--an original--working, by choice and with conviction, in a generally conservative style--eminently worth getting to know on his own terms.
P.S. If you enjoyed the symphonies, don't forget to check out the Taneyev Quartet's recordings of the String Quartets.
43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At last At last At last At last!,
I can't repeat this too often: at last all the Symphonies of Nikolay Miaskovsky are available in good to great performances by an eminent Russian conductor: Evgenii Svetlanov. And the extra good news is: some unfamiliar shorter orchestral Works are on these 16! CD's too. Don't expect the Violinconcerto & the Celloconcerto, these aren't included. But they can be had from other (very good sources).
I started collecting CD's form the first day they were available over here (in Holland) and encountered the first Miaskovsky symphonies on the OLYMPIA label and hoped for a complete cycle. Nothing came of it although some of these readings were by Svetlanov. Later the Marco Polo label started recording them and I hoped for a complete cycle. Nothing came of it - and they were done by different conductors and different orchestras so very varied in recording quality and interpretation - but one of these CD's had the tone poem `Silence' op.9 which blew me over (it's on 1 of the 16 so listen to it, it's great). Years later I heard the rumour that Neeme Jarvi was going to record the symphonies for the Swedish BIS label but nothing came of it. A recording on Deutsche Grammophon of Miaskovsky's 6th (with conclusing choir) with the Gothenburg orchestra and Jarvi was released, so I bought that one, it's a good reading.
In 2002 I visited Japan and in Kyoto, at Tower Records of all places, I saw a 16CD box of all these symphonies I think on Svetlanov's own label and I DIDN'T BUY IT. Somehow I didn't trust it, thought it were pirated recordings and I didn't manage enough Japanese those days to ask the 13-year-old boy who was servicing the classical department. (Still don't but that's another story.) The price was wrong too: around (converted) 200 Dutch Guilders (100 Euro's) so that didn't help either.
On Ebay you'll find recordings of these symphonies (paired with 4 CD's in 1 box) on the Russian Disc label but that seller asks a fortune for the whole set too. So I didn't buy it.
Fortunately later in 2002 the OLYMPIA label announced they'd agreed with the Svetlanovs they were going to release all the symphonies in attractive packaging and with liner notes by the eminent Per Skans for the next 2 years and I was delighted and at last started collecting them. Disaster struck! OLYMPIA ceased operation and ¾ through the series (volume 10 I think) stopped production. I thought I'd never live to get a cycle complete.
I who was visiting every Svetlanov concert he gave over here in my own home town (he was chief conductor for 5 years of the Residentie Orchestra, The Hague.) was denied the pleasure of collecting these works. Delighted I was hearing that the Alto-label had bought the OLYMPIA rights for the Miaskovsky symphonies so there we went: collecting the rest of the series. And now, 4 CD's short of the completion of the OLYMPIA/Alto set: this 16CD box. I immediately ordered it! I suggest you do before it's too late! Grab as long as you can!!!!
Recording nor orchestral playing is perfect but the rawness of things is something Miaskovsky can handle, and Svetlanov's orchestra can too. Go for it and thank you Svetlanov, I'll remember you as long as I live.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a revelation,
In 30 years of listening I had only heard just four of Miaskovsky's 27 symphonies. To explore them all has been a wonderful voyage of discovery. They are far more various and original than the usual critical summaries would suggest, with the 'middle period' works from the late 20s and early 30s as 'modern' as anything that, say, Copland, Honegger or Walton were writing at that time. And then the later works have a marvellous autumnal glow, suffused with melancholy.
Svetlanov's performances present each work with great vigour and character. The recording quality is a bit congested, but has been mastered to give reasonable consistency for performances that must have been spread over 15 years or more of studio sessions. And of course it's enthralling to hear these works performed by the kind of orchestra they were written for.
A very considerable bonus is the generous selection of additional orchestra works, including some true masterpieces.
But the set misses out on five stars for a number of reasons. The notes are dreadful. They don't even give dates of composition or recording. Symphony No 18 has been misnumbered as a duplicate No 8 (the opus numbers keep you right) and nothing explains that Symphony No 23 appears under the title 'symphony-suite'.
Worst of all, in working my way through the symphonies numerically, I discovered that the sleeve for disc 14 contained a duplicate disc 9, with only a few days to go before the time limit for returning the set had passed. So check the set carefully when you get it!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Miaskovsky slow,
I had several of Miaskovskys symphonies but hadn't heard the majority of them especially in his middle period.
The best parts of Miaskovsky are undoubtedly the slow movements and in three of the works here which I hadnt heard before (as they are never performed) the slow movements are quite magnificent.
Symphonies 16,17,18 (latter misnamed in the set as 8) were a revelation .
In particular the slow movement of the 17th is worth the box set on its own.Heavenly music .
I really wish he were better know - maybe some label /conductor will do a Miaskovsky "slow" compilation .
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Seriously Wonderful Music; the box itself could be better presented,
This set was obviously a labour of love from Yevgeny Svetlanov, and his efforts to promote his somewhat forgotten compatriot should not be overlooked.
More importantly, the other reviewers here are as enthusiastic about the music itself as I am. There is no doubt that Miaskovsky doesn't deserve the neglect he has suffered. His music is beautifully crafted, and full of those good, old-fashioned tunes you can hum! Immensely touching at times as well... not exactly revolutionary in his musical style, but so what? Perhaps he didn't want to be?
Take your pick as to where to start. I chose No.16, totally at random, knowing nothing about its tragic associations with a Soviet plane crash. It has a noble third movement funeral march and a slow movement so hauntingly beautiful that I have found it impossible to get out of my head for weeks. I could go on, as there are treasures aplenty here to keep any genuine music lover occupied for years. There are symphonies here of immense value, some maybe a bit lightweight (not that this matters if that is the intention!) some moving, often deeply personal, some visionary.
As with some of the other reviewers, I am only going to give this four stars, since Warner have been a bit tight on the packaging. Not on playing time, mind - the shortest of the 16 CDs here timewise clocks in at 74 minutes! But there are errors in the descriptions of the movements - helpfully pointed out by someone else - and no recording dates - even a year would have been nice! I too had duplicate copies of one CD (for me it was CD5 twice and no CD6!) and have found it difficult it get a huge amount of the information I would normally crave for such an important set. It is out there - perhaps Warner would oblige and help us out? But maybe knowing too much about the origins of each piece could detract from our enjoyment? Having had this set for over a year now, and knowing my way around them quite well, now I actually would like some info, so come on, Warner - put something on your website for us anoraks!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Oh this glorious music!,
How Myaskovsky can be so neglected today must be one of the mysteries of music. I began collecting the CDs of these works when they were issued individually over a long period of time and could hardly wait for the next issue. Here they all are together. OK - the sound varies and is not state of the art - but when it's good, it's good - and the set is lacking in good liner notes, unlike the individual issues. But, oh, this glorious music! The heart of many of these works lies in the slow movements when themes of great beauty often emerge on individual instruments such as clarinet and cor anglais, and on strings. They are intensified and stand out when they are often contrasted with the darker elements in these works. Very Russian but very romantic. With 27 symphonies there are differences in quality, but they are all of great interest. Don't hesitate to hear these works.
4.0 out of 5 stars worthy and great value for money,
Solid, worthy and great value for money. But requires effort.
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