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Two fine symphonies from the neglected Russian master,
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This review is from: Nikolai Myaskovsky: Complete Symphonic Works (Audio CD)
Myaskovsky is the crucial link between the old school of Russian nationalist composers (Glazunov, Rimsky-Korsakov etc) and great figures of the Twentieth Century, like Prokofiev, Khachaturian (who Myaskovsky taught) and Shostakovich.
The 17th Symphony comes from 1937, the time of the Stalinist purges in the USSR. I think that it is one of Myaskovsky finest works, although generally overlooked by critical opinion. It begins ominously and despite its concession to Socialist Realism (dance tunes in the finale), I have always felt that it reflects the troubled times of its creation more than is usually presumed. In places it reflects the influence of Tchaikovsky (at the start) and, briefly (in the trio of the scherzo), the magical fairy-tale world of Liadov (Myaskovsky's teacher). To me the final fugue suggests defiance as much as a concession to the requirements of Socialst Realism.
The Twenty First generally is considered to be Myaskovsky's greatest (certainly best known) symphony, due to the fact that there were a number of western recordings in the LP era (Morton Gould, Eugene Ormandy, David Measham). It is a pity that the fine Morton Gould version on RCA has never been released on CD. It was coupled on LP with Rimsky Korsakov's "Antar" Symphony, with which there are thematic connections. It is a highly concentrated one movement work of enormous eloquence.
The "Salutatory Overture" (for Stalin) provides an agitprop type curtain raiser but is perhaps more interesting than you might expect.
Very sadly, Per Skans who wrote such insighful notes for the previous Olympia and Alto releases of the Myaskovsky symphonies passed away in 2007 and there is a moving tribute to him by Tommy Persson in the booklet notes.
I will not comment on the notes for the 17th and 21st symphonies as I wrote them myself!