What's amazing about Myaskovsky's 27th Symphony (1949-1950) is its ability in maintaining its hugh sense of dignity and nobility, despite the disgraceful Zhadanov affair of 1948. Myaskovsky's unbreakable spirit, personality, & conviction were not compromised (he even refused to submit a letter of apology & acknowledgement for his "error" after the Affair). And even when this Symphony was posthumously awarded the Stalin prize after its premiere in December 9th, 1950, Myaskovsky's personal essay remains personal, deeply rooted in the musical tradition of Tchaikovsky, Glazunov, et al. that he was proud to embrace unregrettably. And like the Cello Concerto of 1944, the melancholy, the nostalgia, and the sensitivity of the Symphony are compelling and wrought, soul searching in its aims, and in the end, deep and ultimately moving and memorable.
The introspective slow movements of these works are clear cases in point. The Adagio movement of the Symphony is among the most inspired of his compositions. The mood belies some of Tchaikovsky's sentimentality and warmth at the other sections of the movement (somewhat in an ABA format). And nothing can better the poetic rhetoric towards the end, with the strings voicing more of its own passion aided by the romanticized brass and woodwinds. In some contrasts, the Lento ma non troppo movement of the Cello Concerto has more of a cantibile, songlike quality throughout, with the sentimentality and nostalgia even more apparent, though not by much. But, as usual with this extraordinarily fine composer, the depth of the slow movements of these two works are profound and beguiling.
And an ensemble must convey these qualities & others should one find a listening experience of a piece of especially this calibre ultimately moving. And while I admire the warmth and sensitivity of Russian State Symphony's performance under Polyansky, I found myself virtually unmoved. What I love so much in Svetlanov's reading of the Symphony (and even in the Concerto in a Melodiya LP) was his masterly manipulation of tempo. This late, great conductor had the ability to give the phrasings that special quality a listener would gladly take everywhere and indulge; the phrasings that speak! In the slow movement, for example, Polyansky's approach is very sensitive indeed, and his orchestra played with real sympathy and feeling. But Svetlanov's approach is much more alive and passionate, especially in the final four minutes. His sense of structure is in every way ideal, decisive and with flair. In the first movement, marked Adagio-Allegro molto animato, Svetlanov brings to mind Tchaikovsky, and to some extent Rachmaninov, whom's world Myaskovsky knew and love deep in his own subconscious. But Polyansky's treatment sounds a bit too much like an allegro moderato for my liking, evoking the grandiousness of Glazunov, which would have been fine if Myaskovsky's mannerism evokes this great composer (which was never really the case). Furthermore, Polyansky's orchestra lacks the finesse that made Svetlanov's Russian Federation Symphony Orchestra the best even in today's Russia. The strings of the Russian State lack bloom and richness in tone of its above-mentioned rival while the brass is rather muddled and lacks presence throughout much of the work (the brass suddenly have more of a presence in the final moments of the piece). Furthermore, I really don't sense the orchestra totally at home with the Symphony as was Svetlanov's, for the reading is more dutiful than it is inspired.
Ironically, though, the orchestra fares better in the Concerto. Here, the sensitivity is more apparent and Polyansky's approach have more flair and decisiveness. And I greatly admire Alexander Ivashkin's songlike playing on the cello solo. Ivashkin was not heavy-handed nor undercooked, but poise yet not detach from the score. He has a compelling lightness of touch where appropriate and, in the cadenza, real imagination & artistry. And while I would hesitate to heighten his playing above those of Rostropovich's or Webber's, his delivery surely measures up to them admirably.
Since Olympia Compact Disc Ltd. will re-issue the original Russian Disc/Melodiya recording of Symphony (presumably), I would wait for that while venture on to acquire the Philips CD of the Concerto played by Webber or the EMI recording featuring Rostropovich. The Chandos CD is worth thinking about for the Concerto (and those unfamiliar with the composer, the Symphony...perhaps). But this disc has its limitations not entirely its fault. Call my review rather harsh, but I've put away this disc feeling a bit cheated, only to find redemption in Svetlanov, who like Kondrashin and especially Rozhdestvensky, knew how to make music something much of memoriabilty and humaneness. They were not always consistent, but almost always worthwhile.