Nikolai Myaskovsky: Symphony No. 17; Symphony No. 21; Salutatory Overture

Evgeny Svetlanov

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Nikolai Myaskovsky: Symphony No. 17; Symphony No. 21; Salutatory Overture Review

by James Leonard

It is impossible to say if listeners would appreciate Myaskovsky's music more or less if they didn't know the stories behind it. Take as examples the three works on this 2003 Olympia disc featuring the Russian modernist's Salutatory Overture, as well as his symphonies No. 17 and No. 21 with Evgeny Svetlanov conducting the Russian Federation Academic Symphony Orchestra. Does it make a difference to know the Overture was commissioned by Soviet radio as a birthday greeting to Stalin, the Symphony No. 17 was written during the Great Terror when millions of Soviet citizens were liquidated by Stalin, or the Symphony No. 21 was written as the shadow of the Great Patriotic War loomed over the USSR? In the case of the calm and dignified Salutatory Overture, knowing Stalin was the personality being honored might not help. But knowing the tragic four-movement Seventeenth in the extreme key of G sharp minor was Myaskovsky's equivalent of Shostakovich's contemporary Fifth Symphony does enhance its musical stature, just as knowing the intense, single-movement No. 21 shows Myaskovsky's determination to persevere in the face of insurmountable odds does add a glow to its raging rhetoric. As before in his recordings of Myaskovsky's complete symphonies, Svetlanov turns in full-blooded and totally committed performances that are entirely convincing as long as they last. Alto's unremastered early '90s Russian digital sound is gray and distant, but remarkably effective.

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