As Alto continues with its release of volume XIII of Myaskovsky's symphony cycle, Warner Classics/France released its 16 compact disc set of that same cycle (plus the miscellaneous works Olympia/Alto for the most part skipped over-for now at least). These labels essentially took over where Russian Disc left off when it released its cycle back in the summer of 2001. But problems with funding, which was provided by the late Yevgeny Svetlanov himself, and disc quality made its long-awaited release rather short-lived (and releasing it in the first place had a long history of quandaries). And when Olympia Compact Disc Ltd. took over in reissuing this cycle, the recording market was already hit hard and Olympia, by then a struggling recording company, went defunct. Alto is seeing it through to the end, and whether the Olympia/Alto series will go under because of Warner's incarnation of this series is simply too soon to tell. But, many thanks are indeed in order for the tireless effort on their part as well as for the overall appealing, revealing presentation (courtesy in large part to the late Per Skans, deservedly well tributed here).
And the symphonies presented here represent much of the best of what Myaskovsky has to offer. The Seventeenth, written in 1936-1937 & dedicated to Alexander Vassilevich Gauk (who premiered the piece by December of 1937), has much going for it. The first movement has much of the Tchaikovskyian psychological drama & the lyricism that permeates throughout, and the reprise of its principal theme at the end of the movement is compelling (well executed here by Svetlanov and his Russian Federation Symphony). That theme, which also recurs in the second and last movements, strongly evokes, perhaps accidentally, the main theme of Sir Arnold Bax's symphonic poem "Christmas Eve" written in 1912. And it was not the first time these composers crossed musical paths. While the first movement, however longwinded, is nevertheless appealing, the second movement, lento assai-Andantino ma non troppo, is among the best coming of the composer's pen. Its beauty and high level of poetry are inescapable here. But it is highly dignified and genuine too, not paying much lip service to the ideals of Socialist Realism (more or less like his melodic Salutatory Overture obligely written in celebration of Stalin's sixtieth birthday). It is, nevertheless, a soulful movement, the one that seeps deeply into one's subconscious: indeed the hallmark of this great Soviet. And while the third movement is folksy and ear-catchingly so, the last movement is more or less reflective, not quite as celebratory as in his next symphony, the Eighteenth (dedicated to the 20th Anniversary of the October Revolution). But as far as this symphony is concerned, the heart was certainly on this composer's sleeves.
As in the case of his Twenty-first (Symphony-Fantasy in F-sharp minor as it is often called), which was among the number of pieces commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 1940. And Myaskovsky, always this quiet, dignified, protesting of a giant musical, soul searching, soul finding artist, dedicated this work to the Chicago Symphony in French, a rather bold move in the height of Stalinism. Its premiere was given in Moscow by Gauk and the USSR Symphony on November 16th, 1940. The Chicago premiere, under Myaskovsky's most ardent promoter in the West, Frederick Stock, followed on the 26th of December. This symphony for quite some time was his most popular (if the word popular is even apt given how little of a vogue this piece achieved, even now). It is nevertheless highly reverenced, given its lucidity and its tight, concentrated structure, which is in a highly behaved sonata form (ABCBA, with its rather complex, interconnected tempo markings as andante sostenuto->allegro non troppo-ma con impeto->pio vivo e poco agitato->allegro->poco mento mosso->tempo I (andante)->lento). Its mysterious language & tone painting in the outer sections lean towards Rimsky-Korsakov while the lyrical warmth and passion rest in the middle of the piece, a typical Myaskovskian reflection and inner contemplation not at all far from Tchaikovsky. But as in so many of his works (his Cello Concerto and his Theme et Variations for strings comes to mind), Myaskovsky was his own man, as this series admirably demonstrated. And while there's so much of a misfortune that surrounds this series and the history of it, credits are due to all involved for making it possible. In Svetlanov's essay "How I was chased out of Russia in the Era of Democracy", printed in Naïve's album that features Lyapunov's Second Symphony, this late great, obdurate, conductor, was especially proud of his Myaskovsky cycle, and rightly so. And given the performances throughout, despite some of the surprises & the imperfections here and there, who I am (or rather who are we) to not acknowledge and be grateful for that? The genuine, intrepid, music making in this one hell of an odyssey shall forever be appreciated and venerated.
And even symbolically speaking. Next volume please!