I was unprepared to like this Symphony quite as much as I did. The only thing I had known about Boris Tishchenko (b. 1939) was that he was reportedly 'Shostakovich's favorite pupil' and I had once heard part of his Second Violin Concerto on the radio and noted the similarity with Shostakovich's style. Somehow in my mind I had relegated him to epigonic status and hadn't sought his music out as a result. My first time through this CD, which contains a live 2002 performance of his Symphony No. 7 (written in 1994), I was immediately attracted to the brio and raffish good humor of the quicker movements. On repeated listening I have come to admire greatly Tishchenko's assurance, his sense of form, his terrific rhythmic sense (and quite expert use of percussion), his masterful counterpoint and, not least, his ability to write memorable tunes.
Dmitry Yablonsky, a conductor whose work I've come in recent times to admire greatly, leads the Moscow Philharmonic who give him their all in an audibly committed performance. I want to single out for praise the percussion section, and particularly the orchestral pianist and xylophonist who really show their chops in the second movement.
This is a five-movement work lasting about 53 minutes, symmetric in its arch-form layout. I and V are related, as are II and IV. III stands in the center as the emotional core of the work. In I there are frenetic and mocking trombone smears, in II some of the most exciting symphonic jazz piano since Bernstein's 'Age of Anxiety' Symphony, although in this movement the barreling piano is accompanied by a silly-sounding xylophone, a strange but exhilarating (and Shostakovian) combination. No matter how many times I hear that section I smile. One thing about Tishchenko, whose harmonic language is quite similar to Shostakovich's in that it never departs significantly from tonality, is that even in his darkest moments, as in III, a sardonic smile is never far away. There is ghostly trudging in III leavened by masterful dissonant counterpoint that builds to a wrenching climax, only to implode into a half-wistful, half-smiling conclusion. IV again features ghostly but graceful strings and muted brass in a theme that is used both as a chorale and in a fugato passage; the overall effect is a wistful gimpy dance. V features some of the wildest, throbbingest percussion writing I've heard since Shostakovich's Fifth. The forward motion is compelling: one doesn't know whether to skip or run or dance wildly with arms waving. Shostakovian piccolos coupled with a tom-tom tattoo are prominent.
Shostakovich is not the only influence one hears in this music; there are a Mahlerian cuckoo and Wozzeckian dance-hall music in I, traces of Bartók in ghostly, half-overheard passages in II, III and IV, American jazz and the spare harmonies of Copland here and there; Prokofiev's sweet-tart harmonies in V; a Debussyan Gollywog cakewalk in II. Yet, the whole thing hangs together.
This release makes me want to seek out more music by Tishchenko. I think I may have been missing something up to now.
An easy recommendation to the mildly adventurous, lovers of Shostakovich, and those for whom tonality is still a requisite in contemporary music.