Monday 31 March 2014

Four fascinating symphonies by Vadim Salmanov in historic performances by Mravinsky on a new release from Melodiya

The Russian composer Vadim Nikolayevich Salmanov (1912- 1978) was born to a family of intellectuals in Saint Petersburg. As a child he was taught piano by his father and intended to study at the Leningrad Conservatory. However, the death of his father led to the necessity of finding work in a factory.

Salmanov, nevertheless, took lessons from composer Arseny Gladkovsky (1894-1945) and, in 1935, entered the Conservatory where he studied composition with Mikhail Gnesin (1883 -1957) and orchestration under Rimsky-Korsakov’s son-in-law, Shostakovich’s teacher, Maximilian Steinberg (1883-1946). After graduating, he worked as a composer until the onset of World War II, when he enlisted in the Soviet Army.

After the war, Salmanov’s compositions tended to reflect his wartime experiences. A string quartet came in 1945 followed by his first symphony in 1952 and a second quartet in 1958. Salmanov spent the rest of his life in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) teaching at the Leningrad Conservatory. His compositions include six string quartets, two violin concertos, works for chorus and orchestra, instrumental works and four symphonies.

The great, Russian conductor, Yevgeny Mravinsky, performed all four of Salmanov’s symphonies with the Academic Symphony Orchestra of the Leningrad Philharmonic Society, the broadcast recordings of which feature on a new release from Melodiya (Μелодия)

MEL CD10 02119

Salmanov was already around forty years of age when he wrote Symphony No.1 in D minor (1952), dedicated to Mravinsky. The Largo has the harmonic sound of Prokofiev in the woodwind unison opening before a quieter motif curiously reminiscent of Haydn. After a repeat of the opening there are hushed strings. A trumpet enters, followed by an oboe gently taking up the theme. The orchestra tries to gain in strength arriving at a rhythmic melody that increases in tempo and drama. Soon a flowing melody arrives, underpinned by faster moving little motifs and rising to an impassioned climax. The music quietens with some lovely woodwind passages before passionate strings lead the music back to a more anguished section backed by percussion and timpani leading to an impassioned resolute conclusion.

Strings play with a slightly balletic feel as the Andante non troppo opens, before settling to a moderate, flowing string theme that is quite affecting in nature. The balletic theme returns and is shared around the woodwinds before being varied, first by the strings then the woodwind. The music gently flows forward. The strings are then backed by a side drum as the theme becomes increasingly agitated. When percussion lead the music on, it quickens, achieving a dramatic climax before falling to quieter, melancholy music for woodwind against quiet strings. The opening theme is repeated by pizzicato strings, quietly and slowly. Woodwind weave around this theme before the strings bring back a more flowing melody, occasionally quite impassioned. Repeated cymbal and drum crashes lead to a hauntingly hushed passage before woodwind and trumpet lead to a still close.

The Presto opens with a rhythmic theme, with short phrases before the strings thrust forward with horns then woodwind adding to the soaring nature of the music. The pace continues to quicken with brass and cymbals sounding out as the music hurtles forward. Eventually a slightly slower string led theme appears in which the brass join, raising it higher. After a slight pause there is a melancholy woodwind theme which is brightened when a piccolo, then cornet, plays a livelier variation that alternates with the strings before rising up, speeding, with brass joining, as the music gallops forward. There is a climax before the music becomes more laboured yet still inexorably pushing forward to its decisive, dynamic end.

There seems an obvious connection in this music to Salmanov’s wartime experiences. Whilst this symphony is not entirely memorable it has many attractive moments.

The live mono recording made in the large sounding acoustic of the Large Hall of the Leningrad Philharmonic Society in 1957 is rather shrill and, perhaps, typical of the 1950’s Melodiya sound. Applause is kept in and there are occasional coughs from the audience. As would be expected from Mravinsky, this is a pretty dynamic performance.

Salmanov’s earlier orchestral works often bore specific titles such as Symphonic Picture ‘Forest’ (1948) and Poetic Pictures after Hans Christian Anderson (1955). Though the four movements of his Symphony No.2 in G major (1959) bear titles, there is no further specific explanation given.

A clarinet theme against strings opens Song of the Forest – Allegro moderato, quasi allegretto before other woodwind enter in a staccato motif. The strings soon take the opening theme forward rising up and becoming more animated. The little harmonic shifts are most attractive as the music moves along, with brass and woodwind joining and leading to a brief climax. The music quietens to a slow string melody before woodwind introduce the opening theme. There is a rhythmic nature to the music that makes it sound quite distinctive.

A cor anglais opens Call of Nature – Andante con estro poetico, a slow considered melody soon backed by a bassoon before the orchestra enters in this lovely melody. Woodwind try to raise the music to a more impassioned nature but it is not to be; it quietens, becoming ever more melancholy. A clarinet takes the theme over a hushed orchestra before a flute enters against lower strings as the theme is varied. Brass and other woodwind enter as the music gains in dynamics but soon falls as brass intone a sad motif. This is music full of melancholy. It rises up passionately on the strings with brass coming in over the top, reaching a pitch before quietening to just woodwind. Soon there is a stirring theme for string and brass moving the music forward. This is a fine moment, so Russian and often reminiscent of Shostakovich. A solo violin against hushed strings leads to the coda with pizzicato lower strings to end.

Rapid strings, anvil and percussion open At Sunset – Allegro molto e feroce in a wildly scurrying theme reminiscent of Prokofiev. There are whip cracks and the sound of the anvil as this music rushes on. However, it soon slows as a solo viola plays over low strings in a sombre melodic theme. There are strange shifting string harmonies as the solo violin continues its little theme that sways up and down, an unusual section underlined by brass and bassoon before other woodwind join in. A harp strums and a solo violin plays against strange, deep orchestral sounds. Pizzicato strings take over, with brass interjections, becoming increasingly fast as percussion join in. The music becomes intoxicatingly manic with wild brass leading the orchestra to a frantic coda.

…And the Forest Sings – Moderato con moto opens with forward flowing strings joined by brass in a rising and falling theme, often quite intense. The music soon quietens with woodwind weaving around chromatic strings. There are a number of brief climaxes before brass intone a melancholy tune. The strings return, flowing up and down, the brass join briefly but the strings alone continue in an impassioned section. Woodwind weave around the theme before the strings lead the way, with cymbal clashes, to a coda for the whole orchestra.

Symphony No.2 is a considerable advance on the first and is a remarkably attractive and interesting work. It receives a terrific performance from Mravinsky who obviously believed in the work.

The live mono recording is a little smoother, less grainy. Applause is again left in.

Salmanov had moved on even further with his Symphony No.3 in A minor (1963), a work that encompasses a twelve tone theme in the first movement, Mesto. Trumpets open before other brass enter. The music falls with deep brass before being joined by the strings in an anxious theme that slowly quickens. Woodwind add their sound, weaving around the theme before a rapid, staccato orchestral motif emerges that leads the music on more dynamically, the strings rising upwards. Percussion join before the music quietens with quiet woodwind and brass phrases. A clarinet leads a rising and falling melody before strings take over. There is a hovering string theme, reminiscent of Prokofiev, before the orchestra scurries ahead, rising to a pitch with xylophone, percussion and bass drum in a dramatic section. Eventually the music drops to a quiet flute melody as quiet strings brood, a cor anglais takes up the theme as the movement ends peacefully and eloquently.

A bassoon opens the Andante before strings enter in a mournful melody taken over by a flute and strings. A clarinet then plays the theme leading to a section for hushed woodwind over low strings. The strings make a sudden outburst in this music that is full of contained emotion. Woodwind then sound out, passionately before the music gently flows, with woodwind and strings woven around the theme as the movement winds its way to a hushed coda.

The Allegro vivace opens with a rollicking orchestral theme underpinned by timpani and percussion before brass enter to join the fast moving theme that is shared around the orchestra. The music gallops along full of energy with just an occasional slackening of pace where a twelve tone motif can be detected. Soon there is an odd section for percussion and muted trumpet that adds a rather Latin American rhythm. The music quietens with celeste and castanets before the strings, in a scurrying motif, that leads the music to a galloping coda.

The Andante non troppo opens on low strings, reminiscent again of Shostakovich, before rising to upper strings. Muted brass enter before the strings return with the theme. Woodwind take the theme before the strings become more agitated. The music is shared around between the calmer woodwind and the agitated strings before a cor anglais enters in a rather tragic theme picked up by the woodwind. Soon the music becomes more dynamic and anxious with a heavier orchestral weight, but eventually drops to a hush as muted brass then woodwind take the theme. Timpani slowly and quietly sound a rhythm as a muted trumpet joins. Tubular bells quietly appear before a bass clarinet and strings lead to the hushed conclusion.  

It is true that there are still influences from Prokofiev and Shostakovich but this is a wholly original work that has many fine elements. Mravinsky gives a terrific performance with a live, 1964, mono broadcast recording that is more than acceptable, not at all shrill or lacking detail. There is occasional coughing and other audience noise and the final applause is kept in.

Like his first symphony, Salmanov’s Symphony No.4 in B minor for grand symphony orchestra (1976) is in three movements. The first movement, Moderato, opens with a hesitant string melody before woodwind enter in the plaintive theme. The brass and woodwind bring a lovely chordal theme before the strings return becoming more passionate with a lovely counterpoint in the basses. The plaintive theme is shared around sections of the orchestra and various individual instruments. Trumpets suddenly introduce a fanfare motif before the music drops to a brief, rich orchestral passage before woodwind and brass again appear against quiet strings in lovely moment. Brass sound out again before faster moving strings take over in a dynamic section that eventually leads to quiet passage for woodwind. However, the strings take off again, swirling upwards, a trumpet calls out as the weighty orchestra moves the music along. As the orchestra quietens woodwind quietly play a plaintive theme, soon joined by a tuba. The strings then lead the way ahead rising and falling in drama and dynamics until a brass ensemble appears that, with the strings, provide a heartrending theme, full of emotion. More woodwind and string combinations lead to a quiet end.

Trumpets with side drums open Marciale a lively movement that is full of fun, quite the antithesis of the first movement. The music often becomes quite dissonantly wild with some brilliantly playing from the Leningrad orchestra under Mravinsky. The music is full of outbursts from the brass and woodwind as the music rattles along, becoming a little more emphatic and serious. The strings often have the feel of Shostakovich at his wildest moments. Eventually a quieter, slower middle section with tubular bell chimes, woodwind and brass arrives, another distinctive moment. The strings suddenly interrupt before leading the music back to its original frenzied manner as the mood lightens once more.

The Andante opens gently with hushed percussion and strings before a cor anglais enters in a lovely theme, another memorable moment. A solo violin enters and duets with the cor anglais over a pulsating orchestra. The orchestra takes over with numerous woodwind details before the orchestra rises up and a trumpet cries out leading to a faster, dramatic section. As the drama increases Shostakovich is again called to mind. The music drops as the cor anglais enters before quietly and gently moving forward with an exquisite flute melody. The orchestra remains quiet and rather gloomy with woodwind sharing the theme until, eventually, the mood lightens and the lovely melody leads to a settled coda.

I really took to this symphony, a work that is full of depth in its outer movements and full of distinctive touches despite other influences.

The live broadcast, stereo recording, from 1977, is a little thin but otherwise clear and detailed. Again there is some audience noise but the applause is edited out.

I am really glad to have made the acquaintance of these fascinating symphonies. They are well worth hearing, especially the later symphonies. This is a nicely produced set with informative notes. Lovers of Russian music will not want to miss this release.

1 comment:

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