Thursday, August 27, 2015

Nikolai Miaskovsky - Sinfonietta for Strings, Op. 32/2 - Theme and Variations - Two Pieces - Napeve - St. Petersburg Chamber Ensemble, Roland Melia - ASV 1995

I have been sick with fever all week, always doubly frustrating in the midst of summer weather! So here's a post late night Thursday that was meant for Tuesday. More journeys into sound shall be added over the weekend.

This is by far my favorite non-symphonic Miaskovsky/Myaskovsky disc, although there are several runner-ups on Olympia and other labels; one of the very fine Olympia discs I posted in 2014, which like this ASV disc also contains the "Sinfonietta", and the Olympia offers up as well the other two works that make up Opus 32 (the Sinfonietta for Strings is Op. 32 No.2). The Sinfonietta is wonderful, and I imagine that many of you will already be familiar with it. "Theme and Variations" is another strong work, and lesser known. Lesser known still, and my favorite piece on this ASV gem is the "Two Pieces", which has its glimpses of moodiness but much more light-and it's quite lyrical and gorgeously pastoral (yes, pastoral!). For me it's always been something special. "Napeve" closes the program and is barely 2 minutes long, yet it is tender and poignant, and it manages to compress much feeling within it's tiny duration.

Nikolai Yakovlevich Miaskovsky was born on April 20th 1881 in a Russian fortress town near Warsaw. A perceptive aunt discovered and nurtured his musical talents and by the age of 15 he was already composing. He began his studies privately in Moscow with Gliere but while visiting St. Petersburg he fell in with, and was inspired by, a group of progressive composers, among them Prokofiev. They provided the catalyst he needed to resign a career in the army and enter the St. Petersburg Conservatory where his teachers were to include Liadov and Rimsky-Korsakov.

By 1921 he had been appointed professor of composition at the Moscow Conservatory (a post he held until his death in 1950) and was on his way to earning an international reputation. A thorough and perceptive teacher he numbered Kabalevsky, Khachaturian, and Shebalin amongst his pupils and his unselfish criticism earned him the affectionate nickname "the musical conscience of Moscow". Despite his introverted and pessimistic personal nature he attempted to communicate deeply with the Soviet listener through a direct and objective style.

Although the company that he kept was progressive Miaskovsky was a stabilizing force rather than an innovator: "The tireless quest for the last word in musical technique and invention did not constitute an end in itself for me". He was a composer of principles and discipline whose music, rooted in Russian traditions, developed from complexity to clarity, from extreme chromaticism to simpler diatonicism, from polyphony to homophony. 

The "Sinfonietta for Strings" (1928/29) is redolent of the writing of Frank Bridge (Suite and Sir Roger de Coverley) and even Elgar (Introduction and Allegro). The first movement, 'Allegro, pesante e serioso. Mosso e resolute' is introduced with a unison statement of the principle theme whose weight and serious nature pervade the second movement. A faster version of this theme follows, attempting to break away from the menacing grip of the introduction- pessimism and vitality conflict dramatically The theme is treated fugally, at one point giving the impression of repeated, almost physical, resistance. The second subject introduces a rather lyrical, even comforting voice-its intimacy enhanced by the use of solo voices. The two juxtaposed themes have a dialog until the apparently useless pleading of the second theme finally gives way to harsh reprimands from the jagged first. The second movement begins with a radiant 'Andante' theme with a touch of 'Hollywood' about it, in the very best possible way and out of this Miaskovsky spins four miniature variations. These variations explore extreme characters and require a deal of virtuosity, especially from the solo violin in Variation 1 (Allegro e leggiero). In Variation 2 (Poco meno allegro, energico) violin and cello soloists engage in a heated dialog which gives way, in Variation 3 (Quasi adagio) to a dreamy duet between viola and cellos. Variation 4 (Allegro - andante) begins with a burst of energy leaving the reconciliatory voice of the solo violin to lead us, via a short burst of aggression from a solo cello, back into the embrace of the theme. The third movement is introduced by an unsettling triplet figure over which Miaskovsky develops thematic material now angular, now graceful. A prevailing sense of unease is carried over into the second theme which, although now in the major key (and thus recalling the optimism of the second movement theme), contains darker chromaticism in the accompaniment which does not allow hope to triumph. We are then assaulted by a brief but bombastic unison rhythm; Russian drama painted in the most primary of musical colors. Further development of the first and second themes brings us again to this figure and the movement ends with dramatic assertion very much anchored in the darkness of G minor.

The "Theme and Variations" begins with the statement of a theme by Grieg of vulnerable simplicity, at first in unison celli and bass, then taken over by the violins with harmony that promises of riches to come. The subsequent variations, each simply and boldly characterized, develop the potential of the theme, both rhythmically and harmonically. Variation 5 features an expansive melodic line which develops in one breath over sonorous, generous harmony, whilst Variation 8 is a fully worked out fugue and as such involves the listener in complex polyphonic rhythm. The overall impression is of a freshness which is born of the theme, although Miaskovsky cannot resist a conclusion which again, using a darker chromaticism, warns us that all is not so well as it may seem.

The modestly titled "Two Pieces" (1945) are headed 'Andante serioso e pietoso' and 'Moderato'. The first begins in the shadowy depths of the celli and bass and only gradually emerges into sunlight. There are moments of austerity reminiscent of Vaughan Williams and others which recall the best musical evocation of the English countryside (indeed we are in a universe far removed from his 27 symphonies!). The second piece is more boisterous and jaunty with a middle section which takes away abruptly from the sheer enjoyment of a country lane into the threatening world of anxiety and instability. However, we are returned as suddenly as we left, and allowed to continue to bathe in luxuriance to the end. Only in the closing bars do we sense a stab of memory-we are warned of the continuing presence of a harsher reality. Simple yet magnificent music to these ears!  

"Napeve" is a soulful, caressing melody very much in the Russian folk tradition. Miaskovsky clothes it in ever increasing chromatic harmony until at a point of maximum poignancy-it must return to the simplicity with which it began. A reflective and fitting end to a delight of a recording.   

A few of my favorite photos of Mia/Myaskovsky:

With a young Khachaturian

Great friends-Prokofiev and Myaskovsky



Marcelo Lasta said...

I LOVE Miaskovsky,parece sacado de la tundra siberiana,su mirada,su traje,su porte,y que espléndidas fotos,junto a sus amigos,Tzadik,desconocia las piezas pequeñas del cd,la Sinfonietta la tengo con el monstruo Svetlanov,en un cd Olympia,que muere conmigo,amo ese cd,trae acoplado the Last lacónica y bella Symphont nr.27,una de las más sublimes del autor ruso,Un abrazo viejo amigo-pues parece,que merced a las musas nos conocemos de eones-buen weekend!! Dr.Tapirman.

theblueamos said...

as allways ,haven't lisened to the music yet.I'm shure it great ,Hope you feel better soon.your friend from Jerusalem.

Joan Tallada said...

Sending you my best wishes for recovery, dear Tzadik.

Tzadik said...

Oh, sí Doc T, Myaskovsky es un gigante en la música rusa y él se quería mucho (aunque nunca lo conocí personalmente ..) por mí mismo. Su producción maravillosa de la música que es;) Sus sinfonías sostengo muy querido, he pasado incontables horas en los últimos años escuchándolos, centrándose en cada uno como si fuera su propio país o isla-de muchas maneras que parecen ser! Solo se necesita un poco de paciencia para algunos de ellos, pero son muy gratificante. Yo también tengo el asombroso Svletnov. Tengo la mayoría de los discos originales Olimpia sin embargo no sé dónde dejé de muchos y por lo tanto, me compré los discos Regis (mismas grabaciones, sólo con las transferencias de los lable Regis). No soy dueño de todos ellos, tengo que comprar la última 'caja Myaskovsky completa "vale la pena el legendario Svetlanov, los 27 sinfonías en un solo lugar, sublime! Sé beaumarchais publicados él (un sistema de la caja mayor, por algunos años, creo que en realidad Melodiya?) Pero realmente quieren poseer yo mismo. Simplemente no puede permitirse ahora. Si puedo encontrar el resto de los discos Regis a un buen precio / más mi extraviado Olimpia, eso sería lo suficientemente bueno.

Espero que estés bien mi querido amigo,


Tzadik said...

Greeting Blue, thnk you for your well-wishes, I'm getting there. I'm sure you will love the music when you have time to get to it :)



Tzadik said...

Joan, thank you friend for your kind words. I am feeling a bit better, yet spending the weekend mostly at home....with endless music :-)



Jaime said...

What a great disc!! Thank you!!

Tzadik said...

Hi Jaime, I couldn't agree more! You are welcome, and thanks for commenting


Roupa das Amigas said...

Dead link... :(