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Popov: Symphony No. 1; Shostakovich: Theme & Variations / Botstein, London Symphony Orchestra

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Product Details

  • Audio CD (Nov. 30 2004)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Universal Music Canada
  • ASIN: B0006A9GKY
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #120,506 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
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1. Allegro Energico
2. Largo Con Moto E Molto Cantabile
3. Finale: Scherzo E Coda. Prestissimo
4. Tema. Andantino
5. Variation I: Andantino
6. Variation II: Piu Mosso (Vivace)
7. Variation III: Andante
8. Variation IV: Allegretto
9. Variation V: Andante
10. Variation VI: Allegro
11. Variation VII: Moderato
12. Variation VIII: Largo
13. Variation IX: Allegro
14. Variation X: Allegro Molto
15. Variation XI
16. Finale: Allegro
17. Adagio
18. Coda: Presto

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La plupart des compositeurs soviétiques ont été assassinés deux fois : en URSS, par les autorités staliniennes qui les tenaient pour inféodés à l'Occident et "étrangers aux hautes aspirations musicales du Peuple", et en Occident, du temps de la Guerre Froide, où on les accusait en bloc de n'être que des musiciens croupions à la solde du Parti, composant des "oeuvrettes simplistes, de manière à être facilement compris des Masses." Gavrill Nikolaïevitch Popov (1904-1972) fut l'un d'eux.

Popov naquit à Novocherkassk , et commença ses études musicales à proximité de Rostov sur le Don, où il passa les années 1917-1922 à étudier le piano et la composition avant de se rendre à Leningrad. Poursuivant dans cette ville ses études de piano, il entra dans la classe composition de Vladimir Chtcherbachov (1889-1952), et entreprit en parallèle des études d'architecture et d'histoire de la littérature. En concert, il donna à de nombreuses reprises "Les Noces" de Stravinsky, en compagnie de Maria Yudina et de deux autres pianistes. Il vint s'établir à Moscou en 1943, où il y resta jusqu'à la fin de ses jours. Dmitri Chostakovich (1906-1975), parmi d'autres, le tenait en très haute estime. Il est notamment l'auteur de six symphonies, d'oeuvres pour voix et orchestre, d'oeuvres de musique de chambre, d'un opéra ("Alexandre Nevsky") et de nombreuses musiques de film.

La symphonie N° 1 op. 7 fut écrite entre 1928 et 1934, Popov ne disposant que de très peu de temps en raison de ses obligations.
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Amazon.com: HASH(0xa036faf8) out of 5 stars 7 reviews
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa06ac564) out of 5 stars The Essences of Popov & Shostakovich in the Era of Discovery Nov. 28 2004
By David Anthony Hollingsworth - Published on Amazon.com
The beauty behind repeated listening is the opportunity to redefine one's reactions after the first encounter. And when a subsequent recording of the piece is involved, then the redefinition can become, quite frankly, even more awesome of the experience. That is the case here; the encountering that is more rewarding and gripping than I could've possibly anticipate and Botstein with the London Symphony Orchestra under the excellently engineered Telarc recording made that possible. This album will be a revelation for quite some time to come.

The first recording of Popov's First Symphony that grew on me since 1996 is the Olympia's re-issued 1989 recording featuring Gennady Provatorov and the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra (no, not the same orchestra that's on Naxos). What I like about Provatorov's take is his overall emotional punch, the impact that grips the listener to one's core. The piercing, schizophrenic opening is a great example of this; the opening that is as frightening and powerful as ever under his hands. But the ensuing development has that sense of paranoiac anxiety that even Myaskovsky can relate to in his Sixth. Provatorov, quite a master of shaping and tone painting brings out the solemn quality of the slow section to full effects. But listen to how explosive that section becomes at 5'13" as the schizophrenia becomes even more pronounced and fateful. The climax at 14'58" is exemplary under his hands, effectively poignant and anguished, but also defiant. This is, like Myaskovsky's Thirteenth (1932), the despondency at its most compellingness.

Botstein, however, very much like his April 11th, 2003 performance with the American Symphony Orchestra in New York (which happened to be the US premiere of the work), goes much deeper. His tempi is more grander and majestic, but hardly with less than emotionally penetrating. Take the development after the initial outburst, the way he becomes more analytical in the psychology behind the music and the man. And the tone painting especially by the London Symphony (brass and percussion sections in particular) is more successful in bringing out the fear yet the uncertainty behind the work (listen how the brass and bass drum portray of primitiveness of fear at 2'18"). Botstein's treatment of the slow section is even more mystifying and elusive than Provatorov's, yet hardly with less impact particularly when the section heats up. But Botstein's take on the elaborate central development is likewise deeply analytical and emotional as well, especially when during the climax at 15'36", the sense of defiance gives way to feelings of pure anguish & Dies irae in majestic proportions. Remarkable stuff here as in the lyrical Largo movement, where, again Botstein is more emotionally penetrating than Provatorov. The movement is lyrical, but not so as clear-cutting as one might expect. With Botstein, the sense of inner loss and contemplation are even more conspicuous, and when the music becomes more emotionally charged, the agitation and poignancy of anguish remain. But the movement retains its humaneness and humility, whereas the finale affirms hope for mankind. Jovial and hopeful the finale is in Provatorov's rendition, the sense of victory and hope is more harder earned under Botstein (and again the brass and percussion bring forth more of the schizophrenic nature of the first movement, a reminder that the reality of Stalinism remained though the will to live remained also). With that all said and done, Provatorov defines standards and expectations of the piece. Botstein re-defines them.

Some annotations must be made on the man and the music. Gavriil Nikolayevich Popov (1904-1972) was in essence "Shostakovich's Long-Lost Brother" (in using Laurel Fay's description of him in his April 6th, 2003 New York Times article). Emerging during the avant-garde movement of the 1920s, he achieved fame and notoriety with his Septet of 1926, the piece that represented the best of the avant-garde tradition in Russia and abroad. As with Shostakovich, Popov's creative instincts were relentless and fresh. And before he completed his First Symphony in 1934, Popov was already an experienced composer for the film. The radical nature of his music was fueled by the teachings of his professor at the St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) Conservatory of Music, Vladimir Scherbachov, who himself was caught up in the mood and experimentation of the time and achieved fame with his "Blok" Symphony. His associations with a legendary film director, Vsevolod Meyerhold, had further influences on his music which is noticeable in this remarkable creation.

Popov's First Symphony (1928-1934) is extraordinary for its unrelenting creative impulses yet with a keen sense of structuralism. As with, say Lyatoshynsky's Second Symphony (1935- 1936) and even his Third much later, in 1951, this work contains polyrhythms and simultaneous orchestral clashes that captured the spirit of the times, even when the age of experimentation was diminishing after 1931 (the various imitative polyphonic devices used in these works and others were symbols of artistic defiance). It is quite remarkable that even Lev Knipper, a founding father of the Russian Avant-Garde, happened to write the Fourth Symphony in 1933, which is perhaps the most socialist-realist work ever. But Popov's First is as honest as it is stubborn, the testament of a creative genius who refused to go down without a fight. As with Shostakovich Fourth, Popov's masterpiece represented disquieting struggles against the increasing weight of the enforcement of Socialist-realism policies and principles. Knipper gave in then rebounded much later while Shostakovich did not. Popov's fought on, but strained emotionally and artistically in the end (the abhorrent 1948 Zhdanov Affair presented him the final blow from which he could not fully recover). But, if anything, the masterpiece show's the unyielding fight for artistic freedom amidst the changes and the increasing atmosphere of fear and subversion that were going on around these artists and their admirers. If Shostakovich's delightful Theme and Variations (1922) belies the instability of the new order (and its does, but refreshingly so), Popov's First Symphony does not.

Roger Ebert once said in his review on the "Shawshank Redemption" that "all good art is about something deeper than it admits." The good art, in Popov's masterwork and Botstein's rendition of it with his excellent orchestra at his disposal, went deeper, and not ashamed in the slightest bit in admitting it.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa06ac96c) out of 5 stars Perplexed by Popov Nov. 26 2006
By Russ - Published on Amazon.com
For me, this is a difficult disc to review. Listening to the first symphony (1934) of Soviet composer Gavriil Popov (1904-1972) is quite an undertaking. And, I am not really referring to the length (although, at 50 minutes this is not a short work), but rather to the unrelenting harshness of the symphony, as well as the aimless direction the work seems to take on its long journey.

Popov is not really household name, so it is partially helpful to refer to other, better-known composers when speaking of Popov's first symphony. Implicitly, a connection to the works of Shostakovich (1906-1975) is made by coupling Popov's first symphony with Shostakovich's Theme and Variations. This connection is made explicitly by the program notes, which lists in great detail all of the similarities between the lives of the two composers. Parallels are also drawn between Popov's first symphony and Shostakovich's fourth symphony. While it is true that both works date from the 1930's and that neither was approved by the Soviet authorities, it is far too simple to state that if you like the early works of Shostakovich you will like Popov's first symphony.

The point is there are probably more apt comparisons to be made. The opening orchestral outburst sounds like Stravinsky, while the clamorous coda of the symphony sounds like a more cantankerous version of Scriabin's "Poem of Ecstasy." Part of the scherzo reminds me of the opening of Prokofiev's "Scythian Suite" without the memorable melodic material. I am not quite sure what to make of the lengthy inner section of first movement, or the entire second movement, but possibly there are traces of Schoenberg and Messiaen here. So I suppose the conclusion to be drawn here is that, for me, Popov's first symphony is quite a mix, and not all of the ingredients are to my liking. However, if this bizarre blend sounds appealing to you, this disc may warrant your attention.

But I suppose a more direct approach can be taken in describing Popov's symphony. It is a three movement work, consisting of a incoherent 24-minute opening movement, a plodding 17-minute largo and a relentless 9-minute scherzo and coda. For me, most of the problems occur in the first two movements, which arise from the harshness of the texture, the lack of memorable melodic and harmonic material, and from the kaleidoscopic approach to form. At any one point in the symphony, I really can not indicate where the work is going - or where it has been, for that matter.

So, going back to Shostakovich; I would say that the large and complicated nature of Popov's first and Shostakovich's fourth, as well as the political intrigue and oppression taking place at time of their composition allows one to state that both works are symphonies of musical "interest." Yet, the propulsive energy, emotive communicativeness and distinctive melodic material found (to a greater extent) within Shostakovich's fourth leads me to conclude that while many will find Shostakovich's fourth to be of musical "merit" relatively few will have the same feelings for Popov's first.

This disc concludes with the only available recording of Shostakovich's 15-minute Theme and Variations, composed during the composer's sixteenth year. This is a very early work and the influences of Tchaikovsky and Glazunov loom large (especially the work's festive Glazunov-like conclusion). With that said, there are moments that look ahead to Shostakovich's ballets and the work also contains a beautiful largo variation toward the end.

So, I suppose I am back where I am started. This is a difficult disc to rate. Everything is well-played and recorded, but I do not believe I will return back to the Popov symphony often. Primarily on the basis that I did not like the Popov (except for some parts in the third movement), I am giving this disc three stars. Nevertheless, if you consider yourself highly adventurous and enjoy musical oddities, there may be something here for you.

TT: 65:24
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa0b5e15c) out of 5 stars Great, Not Being Prokofiev Second or Shost. Fourth! June 16 2013
By Peter P. Fuchs - Published on Amazon.com
This is truly a profound CD, with a performance that befits this strong masterpiece by Popov. What a great shame that the insane demands of the Stalin's "anti-formalist" requirements forced this man to get into the propaganda realm. A realm in which he had none of Shostakovich's incredible talent for meeting those curious requirements and somehow infusing his own genius in it as well. In a sense what this Symphony allows is even a clearer sense of how and why Shostakovich was especially gifted for a bizarre environment. For this is a great symphony. And what is very commendable about Botstein's performances is that he does not give this sui generis work a reading that might accord with much better-known works that might be brought to mind by the scope and scale. Namely, the Prokofiev Second, or the Shostakovich Fourth. That it has a very bespoke quality, and does not sound like a version of those symphonies, but like the previously unknown Popov First, is a testament to Botstein's artistic integrity. More simply, the pacing and tempi are excellent, as boy a work on this scale could easily have become a complete morass in less visionary hands. I think the reviewers here who suggest that this is a turgid recording were likely hoping for Khatchaturian.....though I have nothing against Khatchaturian.

My only criticism of the CD is the cover, though it makes sense. Petrov-Vodkin's red horse, which I loved seeing at the Dillon Ripley Center a few years ago, would have fit the heroic mien of the work better. Because in person that is an incredibly heroic work in the the quirky way only Russian culture engages.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa06ac9e4) out of 5 stars The Popov is a major discovery, and performed well Jan. 29 2015
By jt52 - Published on Amazon.com
Revival discs such as this Telarc release have a pretty mixed track record with me, but this is one of the winners. I had never heard any of Gavril Popov’s music before – not surprising because he took the condemnation that this 1st symphony received in 1935 to heart and wrote “socialist realist” music for the rest of his career – but his 1st is one of the best 20th-century symphonies I’ve had the pleasure of hearing. All of fifty minutes, it is a long work and very taxing for the listener. Although tonal, the outer movements contain spiky dissonances and material is rarely repeated in its original form, always subject to variation and alteration, often reworked thoroughly.

The symphony is cast in three movements, with two dramatic, dynamic outer movements and a soulful, contrasting central Largo about twenty minutes in duration. The ambitious opening Allegro energico is actually my least favorite of the three. It has a faked ending – the music deceptively fades out before starting up again several times out of the silence, finally dying away. The limpid, central Largo, with its beautiful and memorable oboe melody, is a masterful midcentury example of modernism, attractive and complex and idiosyncratic all at the same time. About 10 minutes in length, the finale is the shortest of the three movements and is written in a similar idiom as the opening Allegro but I think more coherently. That said, the sheer difficulty of the music and its complex organization may make me re-evaluate that opening Allegro on more listenings. And there will be more listenings, because this is a top echelon creation. To set a “quality level”, I’d rate the Popov as better than any of Sergei Prokofiev’s 7 symphonies excepting the 1st and 5th, and on par in achievement with a major effort like Dmitri Shostakovich’s 10th. That’s good company to be in.

I have heard Leon Botstein conduct live a couple of times and always thought the results worthy of a talented amateur rather than a professional. Both the Popov and Shostakovich performances here are very strong, though, which suggests that if you give Botstein a world-class orchestra like the London Symphony and I assume sufficient rehearsal time, the results will be very successful. Their performance is precise – so important to a score like the 1st symphony – and lively. The recording’s sound quality is excellent, important because the dramatic outer movements of the Popov are taxing to any stereo reproduction.

The disc also contains a juvenile variations set from Dmitri Shostakovich, written in an appealing and heartfelt late romantic style. If you’re a committed classical fan, you’ll absolutely want to hear the Popov. Strongly recommended.
HASH(0xa06acd68) out of 5 stars From 'Fanfare Magazine' 2005 June 25 2014
By Thomas Martin - Published on Amazon.com
I had never heard of Gavrill Popov until I read Alex Ross's 'The Rest is Noise' The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century. I was intrigued by his discussion of Popov's First Symphony, and the composer's connection to Shostakovich. I decided to do some investigating...

Fanfare Magazine featured two very positive reviews of the First Symphony several years ago (this recording and an earlier recording all Russian forces on Olympia Popov:Symphonies No.1 & No.2). I've ordered the Boststein non-SACD version of this recording. In the meantime, I thought interested listeners might find the Fanfare review of this recording informative.

"In 1948, Stalin's musical czar, Andrei Zhdanov, gave a pair of speeches at the Conference of Soviet Musicians in which he singled out composers whose manner and work were threats to the state. These "formalists" (a code word for anything the Soviet regime hated at the moment) were Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Miaskovsky, Khachaturian, Shebalin, Kabalevsky, and Gavril Popov (1904-1974). What's fascinating is the inclusion of Popov, virtually unknown today, in a list of some of the most distinguished and well-known composers of the Soviet Union.

It had not always been so. Back in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Popov was a prominent figure on the Soviet avant-garde musical scene: his Chamber Symphony of 1927 even became a celebrated "bad boy" work, abroad. A graduate of the Leningrad Conservatory, he was also an excellent pianist, performing Mozart's Concerto for Two Pianos in public with Shostakovich. Popov was known for his outspoken integrity and combative stance in support of various artists. (These qualities apparently continued in later years, and might have acted to the detriment of Popov's career. If the comments of Isaak Glikman, a close friend of Shostakovich, are to be believed, then Popov was only one of three musicians who dared offer an unequivocal defense of Shotakovich's Symphony No. 8 at a composers' plenum in 1944.)

But Popov made the transition to the Stalinist totalitarian regime poorly. His First Symphony was too original and pessimistic a work to win ultimate approval. Popov tried to placate the authorities with a superior kind of folk-based Socialist Realism in its successor, but secured no favor as a result. Further works were seldom performed and severely criticized by his peers, who in turn looked to the official line for cues on appropriate attitude. As Stalin considered himself a superlative judge of all the arts, suitable hints of unassuaged anger were never hard to discover.

David Fanning's liner notes point to Popov's music after his First Symphony as missing the promise of his early work. But has anybody in Russia or elsewhere actually acquired Popov's scores, and studied them to determine whether this is the case? At best, we've had three or four recordings on the now discontinued Olympia label of a few symphonies and symphonic works from which to judge Popov's life work as a classical composer. This is hardly sufficient for sweeping statements; nor do the compositions confirm, in themselves, the comments of promise unfulfilled. We'd do better to leave such judgments until a time when the bulk of Popov's music is sufficiently familiar for a clear assessment of its overall quality.

This also applies to comments (thankfully not included in Fanning's essay) bemoaning the composer's supposed descent into alcoholism as the cause of his "failure." Alcoholism was known as the Russian Vice as far back as the 15th century, when the Venetian ambassador Ambrogio Contarini famously referred to Russians as "great drunkards . . . who despise all those that do not do likewise." It was said to be the rock upon which innumerable fine careers were wrecked, but Popov had a lengthy and active career--as an esteemed composer of film music: 38 scores in all, including that deserved blockbuster of the Vasiliev Brothers, Chapayev (currently available on VHS only), and the great Sergei Eisenstein's now-lost Bezhin Meadow. Popov wouldn't have been offered such assignments if his talents were questionable or his ability to deliver results on time compromised. Whatever his personal vices, they apparently didn't include anything that would prevent his success on this front. If he drank, it didn't affect his abilities to function professionally.

One point alone seems indisputable: the Symphony No. 1 is a work of iconoclastic individuality and notable quality. It has appeared before in a late Soviet-era recording that featured the USSR Radio and TV SO under the direction of Gennady Provatorov, but neither that performance nor its sound was especially distinguished. Given the complexity of the work and the brilliance of its scoring, this new release can be regarded as the first truly representative recording of the piece.

Popov's method of construction in his First Symphony is direct and deceptively simple, with the first pair of movements following an identical formal plan. Each presents three themes of dissimilar character and style. For example, the first movement furnishes a snide, Prokofiev-like toccata, a spidery, fugal scherzo out of Schoenberg, and a series of heavily drooping brass-and-strings chords that call to mind the image of Scriabin after a night spent with a bad bottle of vodka. These themes are then developed at great length, finishing with an abbreviated thematic restatement.

(Popov would repeatedly return to this method of construction, most notably in his compelling Sixth Symphony. There the themes are all bright, pod-happy depictions of Soviet reality, such as one might hear in numerous other "official" works of Soviet optimism, put through a developmental blender that transforms them into the stuff of nightmares. The effect is not unlike that of viewing some of Salvador Dalí's oils for the first time, where the sense of disturbance is made all the greater by the transition from mundane into surrealistic reality.)

This is a young man's symphony, meaning that it is as much about making a statement as the statement itself. In this respect, it resembles the young Prokofiev, rather than Shostakovich, whose career David Fanning compares to that of Popov. This is a piece that never conceals its composer's pride in his exceptional skill at orchestration, rhythmic variety, and thematic transformation. Equally impressive are its elemental energy and creative focus, which not only bind together movements of great length (more than 23 minutes for the first, over 16 for the second), but also leave behind an impression of unsurpassed concentration.

On another level, Popov's First Symphony is curiously Janus-faced. Technically, it looks forward in the most uncompromising of terms, but emotionally it is tied to the manic-depressive extremes that rightly or wrongly have long been associated with the Russian national character at its romantic flood tide. The first movement is apocalyptic, a giant cry of despair more extroverted than the finale of Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony. The second movement recalls the massive, brooding slow movements of many Shostakovich symphonies­--that in turn recall Mussorgsky; the finale is a grotesque, Prokofiev-like perpetuum mobile of great wit and glittering textures that capers and mocks. Were it not for the mocking part and the advanced musical language, the debt both composers owe to the symphonic scherzos of Glazunov would be clearer (though Prokofiev for one would never have acknowledged it).

The Shostakovich work selected as the symphony's disc companion is surprising. It is the most academic of his published works, composed in 1922, dedicated to his counterpoint teacher, Nikolai Sokolov, and apparently never performed during his lifetime. It is a pleasant work that could have been composed by the likes of Ippolitov-Ivanov on an inspired day. I'm glad of the chance to hear it, but will never regret the matter if it disappears from my future listening without a trace.

Botstein and the LSO deliver a powerful reading of Popov's complex and densely turbulent work. The clarity and articulation of inner parts is little short of remarkable at times, especially in the first movement. Tempos are often uncompromising, as in the final movement, where the manic marking of prestissimo is obeyed despite a horn bobble two-thirds of the way through. I'm not surprised that Botstein was satisfied with the results, since it has more than enough character and control to compensate. The Shostakovich must have seemed like a walk in the proverbial park after the Popov, but the LSO applies all the warmth and Russian Nationalist sheen at its command. The results are a delight.

Telarc's hybrid multichannel recording is bright and clear without sounding gimmicky. Two points of especial merit on the SACD version deserve mention. First, there's the entire finale of the symphony, its snarling brass and deep strings emerging from all quarters. Second, there's the transformation of the Scriabin-inspired theme from the first movement into an enormous, emotional meltdown that seems to pull you down with it. It's a perfect work to demonstrate the value of the Super Audio CD process, and Telarc achieves this.

There remains a great deal of Popov to explore. What about his Great Suite for Piano and his Octet, both from 1927? His operas, The Iron Horseman and King Lear? His 1957 Quintet for the interesting combination of flute, clarinet, trumpet, cello, and double-bass? His Organ Concerto of 1970? New, significantly better recordings of his fine Second and Sixth Symphonies? Perhaps this First Symphony will serve to open the floodgates. Whether it does or not, it is worth purchasing on its own, as a combination of superlatives for music, performance, and engineering. Barry Brenesal "