Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra

Boris Tischenko: Symphony No. 1; The Blockade Chronicle Symphony

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Context, contrast, and comparison: these are the essential three elements of historical evaluation. Out of context, the symphonic achievement of Dmitry Shostakovich is hard to measure. But in context of the symphonies of Prokofiev, Khachaturian, Myaskovsky, Weinberg, and, in this case, Tischenko, one can decide on Shostakovich's stature on a firm historical basis. Written when the composer was only 22 and before he had taken lessons directly from Shostakovich, Tischenko's First Symphony of 1961 is a large-scale work cast in five movements: a weighty Moderato and heavy Andante followed by a shorter but no less substantial Presto, Allegretto, and Allegro risoluto. Tischenko's harmonic language is basically tonal, his gestural rhetoric is basically tragic, and, at least in this performance, his cohesion is basically minimal. Although Edward Serov later made many excellent recordings of the Soviet orchestral repertoire, his performance here with the Leningrad Philharmonic seems slipshod in the extreme. The orchestra -- under Mravinsky, easily the best the Soviet Union had -- sounds frankly terrible: the strings are rarely together, the winds are rarely in tune, the brass are rarely less than bombastic, and the percussion is rarely less than bludgeoning. And the music, whatever its merits may be, sounds here disjointed to the point of dismemberment. Nor do matters improve when Andrei Chistyakov takes the podium and leads the Leningrad in a performance of the Blockade Chronicle Symphony of 1984, a single-movement work of high ambitions and low achievements. As it had for Serov, the Leningrad plays as if the performance were a preliminary run-through and not a concert performance, and as before, the music seems formally vague and emotionally inchoate. Caught in dim, gray, and empty sound from live recordings made in 1970 and 1985, these performances won't do much for Tischenko's reputation in the West -- but they will assure Shostakovich's preeminence among Soviet symphonists.

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