Leon Botstein

Gavriil Popov: Symphony No. 1; Shostakovich: Theme & Variations

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Admired by Prokofiev and Shostakovich but suppressed in Russia as "formalist," Gavriel Popov's Symphony No. 1, Op. 7 (1934), is the most daring of his six symphonies, a work of brutal violence and brooding mystery which, quite clearly, had the wherewithal to offend the Soviet authorities. Only gradually has it entered the repertoire in the West, largely through the efforts of conductor Leon Botstein and a few others. This turbulent work evokes memories of Stravinsky's Le Sacre du printemps and Prokofiev's Scythian Suite, and also bears some comparison to Shostakovich's Symphony No. 4 -- similarly banned for its modernism -- so strong are its dissonances and restless, frequently atonal counterpoint. The London Symphony Orchestra, directed by Botstein, gives a charged reading, filling the first movement with nervous energy, the lyrical second movement with foreboding, and the Scherzo finale with savage sarcasm; the performance is a convincing argument for this rugged work's revival. The Theme and Variations, Op. 3 (1922), by Shostakovich is an early work of modest proportions. This charming but derivative student work seems an odd choice as filler, since it dispels the impact of Popov's Symphony and closes the disc on a weak note. Telarc's DSD recording is fine, though the sound is a little distant in soft passages.

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