Arte Nova's Russian Futurism, Vol. 4: Mikhail F. Gnesin errs on the same basis that Vol. 2 in this same series, devoted to Alexander Gedike, does; the composer featured does not represent in any way the Russian Futurist movement, nor does his work share anything in common with it. In this case such careless miscategorization might tend to discourage a good part of a potential audience that could stand to gain a lot from it, as Gnesin was not a futurist but one of the greatest exponents of the Jewish Folk Art Society. This group of Russian-Jewish composers gathered under composer and Rimsky-Korsakov alumnus Joel Engel in 1908, only to be outlawed as counter-revolutionary in Russia by 1921. Nevertheless, their work was one of the first specifically defined artistic statements in the whole culture of Judaism and its impact is felt more strongly from the late twentieth century forward than forward from their own time. Gnesin's earlier compositions, such as the symphonic fragment D'aprés Shelley shows that he absorbed the influence of Rimsky-Korsakov well, but the chamber works such as the Requiem, Op. 11, and mixed sextet Adigeya, Op. 48, bear a strong relationship to the heritage of Hebraic melody. Their mournful mood, and particularly that of the Trio "Dedicated to the memory of our lost children," Op. 63, shows a striking similarity to late century works of composers like Paul Schoenfield, Osvaldo Golijov, and even Valentin Silvestrov, despite their more conservative harmonic language. The orchestral suite The Jewish Orchestra at the Ball in Nothingtown, Op. 41, has some degree of parody elements, but it is nothing like Hindemith's Overture to the Flying Dutchman as played at Sight by a Second-Rate Concert Orchestra at the Village Well at 7 o'clock in the Morning. It is a genuine and good-natured remembrance of a rural Jewish folk orchestra rescored for standard symphony orchestra, and it should be heard by anyone who is interested in contemporary Jewish concert music.
The performances here are adequate, but not great; the chamber pieces are played accurately but without much depth of feeling. The orchestral music is obviously "squashed" with too much compression and it makes the recording sound more of a "Soviet antique" than it should; it was made only in 1996. Nevertheless, Arte Nova's Russian Futurism, Vol. 4: Mikhail F. Gnesin is the place to find these important works. As long as the customer is aware that the name Gnesin stands for classic Jewish folk art, and not for "futurism" as indicated by the title above the name, then Arte Nova's Russian Futurism Volume IV: Mikhail F. Gnesin may well prove a valuable addition to one's collection.