Notes and Editorial Reviews
Orchestral Suites: No. 1,
Dmitri Vasiliev, cond; Siberian SO
TOCCATA 0136 (62:19)
Vissarion Shebalin (1902-1963) was regarded highly by Shostakovich as a teacher of composition, a fine composer, and a person of integrity and great personal courage. Many anecdotes testify to all of this, but the current general opinion of his worth as a composer seems more accurately reflected by Boris
: “He was an erudite musician, more methodical than inspired…a musical intellect without the ultimate spark of genius.” I’ve never subscribed to the 19th-century concept of genius, but certainly Shebalin was uneven in his compositional output. It also didn’t help that in an era of easily identified musical personalities, such as Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Miaskovsky, and Taktakishvili, his was a quieter, less personalized voice, and more comfortable in smaller and more intimate forms than in epic ones. These two orchestral suites, drawn from his incidental music to several plays, more than hint at just what Shebalin could achieve when not being subjected to invidious comparisons.
The first of the two suites was drawn from music for Yuri German’s
and Vsevolod Vishnevsky’s
The Last Decisive
, both directed in 1933 by Meyerhold. Let’s just focus on two sections. The second movement, “Dance,” looks satirically at 1920’s jazz bands, with its solo clarinet and violin over saxophone in counterpoint, the rhythm rapped out
both by the lower strings and banjo. Muted trumpets and wah-wahing trombones have their say, while a society pianist is mordantly assigned a single chord. The whole thing is handled a lot more subtly and slyly than Shebalin’s great good friend Shostakovich did when he invoked jazz—much less Weill—though that doesn’t prevent the piece from working up steam to a magnificently irresistible, colorful march in conclusion. The fifth movement, “Song,” is a good choice for lyrical beauty and dramatic intensity, as well as giving some evidence of the composer’s skill in transformative development. (As a Miaskovsky pupil, he came by it naturally.) Even though at slightly over six minutes it’s the longest piece in the First Orchestral Suite, it feels neither padded nor repetitious.
The Second Orchestral Suite is drawn from a stage production of Alexander Dumas
La Dame aux camellias
, given again at the Meyerhold State Theater. The original version was made in 1935, and consisted of three selections, but Shebalin reorchestrated those, and expanded the number of pieces to eight in 1962. The content is clearly less satirical, the colors more traditional. The “Slow Waltz” is quietly evocative, a dance that never fully forms, but drifts around a single, reflective idea on harmonically evasive wings until it falls apart. It is as memorable as anything written by Shebalin’s better known contemporaries. Much of the same can be said about the other movements in both suites. At their worst, they are entertainment of a high order, somewhat self-effacing but with numerous harmonic and orchestral touches that add distinction. At best, they are fit to exist on any pops program in lieu of similar material by Prokofiev and Khachaturian.
The Siberian Symphony Orchestra is a bit ragged around the edges, but has some fine soloists, and an adequate but unspectacular blend between sections. Dmitri Vasiliev has exactly the theatrical measure of this music, however, moving easily on the fly between swiftly shifting expressive modes, as in the Second Suite’s “Potpourri.” If the orchestra lacks the finesse to manage all the delicate shades of color Shebalin supplies, it nevertheless has plenty of drive, discipline, and clarity, under its conductor’s capable hands.
Strongly recommended. With the composer’s excellent string quartet series currently out of print and his fine opera
Taming of the Shrew
untransferred from Melodiya LPs (it has Vishnevskaya in the title role, with Chalabala conducting), this is the best way to get a sense of what Shebalin was capable of. Let others form measures for genius. Shebalin simply wrote excellent music.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Works on This Recording
Orchestral Suite No. 1, Op. 18 by Vissarion Yakovlevich She
Siberian Symphony Orchestra
Date of Recording: 04/02/2012
Venue: Omsk Philharmonic Hall
Length: 30 Minutes 18 Secs.
Orchestral Suite No. 2, Op. 22 by Vissarion Yakovlevich She
Date of Recording: 06/03/2012
Venue: Omsk Philharmonic Hall
Length: 29 Minutes 56 Secs.
Suite No. 1, Op. 18: I. Funeral March
Suite No. 1, Op. 18: II. Dance
Suite No. 1, Op. 18: III. Slow Waltz
Suite No. 1, Op. 18: IV. Dance
Suite No. 1, Op. 18: V. Song
Suite No. 1, Op. 18: VI. Waltz
Suite No. 2, Op. 22: I. Waltz
Suite No. 2, Op. 22: II. Tarantella
Suite No. 2, Op. 22: III. Slow Waltz
Suite No. 2, Op. 22: IV. Bolero
Suite No. 2, Op. 22: V. Romantic Waltz
Suite No. 2, Op. 22: VI. Potpourri
Suite No. 2, Op. 22: VII. Romance without Works
Suite No. 2, Op. 22: VIII. Galop
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