St. Petersburg born and bred Andrei Pavlovich Petrov (1930–2006) was one of the most fascinatingly idiosyncratic figures of the Soviet and post-Soviet eras. He had scads of talent and personality, evident from the start by a string of popular successes during the 1950s when he was still in his 20s, culminating in the 1959 ballet "The Creation of the World". In these and most of his succeeding efforts he was always his own man, stylistically and otherwise, never settling for the clichés of Party-approved assembly-line socialist realism.
Petrov had a strong populist bent and, though his idiom remained harmonically sophisticated and adventurous, he was always clearly interested in communicating with a broad public. During his earliest years he was primarily a man of the theater (all his work has a noticeable histrionic element), concentrating mostly on ballet and film music. In some ways he comes across as a Slavic equivalent to a combination of Honegger and Malcolm Arnold, and in some scores (imo..) it's like wrapping Schulhoff, Antheil and a drop of Tischenko in a single (yet highly original) package. I have to say....I hate making references sometimes..it's pointless really as this music really speaks for itself and BY itself. It's just natural to look for such connectivity and often hard not to do!
"The Creation of the World" shows Petrov to be a kind of tongue-in-cheek faux-naif with its grotesque and effervescent mixture of folk, jazz, and the nursery. The idiom is comparable to the vibrant early works of his contemporary Rodion Shchedrin, such as the ballet "The Little Humped-back Horse" or the first concerto for orchestra, "Mischievous Melodies". Later on Petrov drew three separate suites from this fecund and rambunctious score, but there seems to be some confusion on disc as to their respective contents. This recording purports to offer the first and third suites but the individual movement titles and timings differ in selection and duration from lengthier excerpts once available on vinyl. What might take one by surprise is the sudden applause (I believe it's in the second movement) that enters midway, it's not clear whether Petrov incorporated this into the score or if the audience (I believe it is a live performance) is just so blissfully confused at this point that they are just joining in under the big-top :) Nevertheless the colorfully inventive and irrepressibly anarchic spirit of the music is fully present in these excellent renditions. Great stuff!
During the 1970s in the West, Petrov was represented on disc by a dramatically wild and vivid orchestral cycle, "Songs of Our Days" (reissued on CD by the Boheme Music label), together with a bombastic Poem for organ, strings, and percussion. There are also a couple of concertos (the dour Violin Concerto was once available on a Talents of Russia CD and a Trumpet Concert with winds has also been recorded) and some chamber music, but Petrov remained an essentially programmatic composer who prefers to work on a large scale.
As he evolved during his middle years, Petrov became even more of a conscious nationalist, finding inspiration in Russian history and literature (his two operas revolve around Peter the Great and the doomed early Soviet poet Mayakovsky) and even the Orthodox faith (one of his last works is a symphonic oratorio about the crucifixion "The Time of Christ"-which has been issued in Russia on a limited edition CD). There is also a gigantic 80-minute choral-choreographic symphony whose central figure is the great 19th-century poet Pushkin, a work also once available on vinyl :(
One of the peak achievements of his later years is "Master and Margarita" of 1985, a "symphonic fantasia" (later turned into a ballet), inspired by passages in the celebrated 1920s satirical and phantasmagorical novel by Nikolai Bulgakov, which was never published until after Stalin's death. This single-movement, 24-minute score is conceived in the form of an epic fresco with potent tragicomic overtones-a blazing, searing musical melodrama, perhaps not over-subtle but always totally gripping. Its mournful lyricism, dominated by a simple, childlike motif, begins and ends softly but builds to a midpoint climax in an eruptive and bitterly dissonant waltz, dissolving into an aftermath of funereal organ and lamenting flute.
In 2005, one year before his death, Petrov produced his swansong, another "symphonic fantasia" teasingly entitled "Farewell to …" a kind of autobiographical summing up in which his Mahleresque affinities-albeit with strong Slavic inflections-are made more apparent. This 22-minute single movement also opens and closes quietly but in between we are treated to a violent rock-and-roll/big band "chase" sequence, densely scored and totally over-the-top with, again, an organ making a ghostly appearance accompanied by a screeching soprano. But all of a sudden we switch gears to an ethereal setting for the soprano of a couple of deeply poignant lines from a Boris Pasternak poem in "Doctor Zhivago". With this electrifying and annihilating work Petrov seems to be reflecting not only on his own life but that of his politically misguided generation..