Notes and Editorial Reviews
Tishchenko isn’t well known in the West, but he remains among the most imaginative, musically satisfying, and intellectually stimulating composers to appear in Russia after the fall of Khrushchev.
Shostakovich was known for his generosity to friends and students. In his later years, one of the principle beneficiaries of this attention was Boris Tishchenko (b. 1939), who took a post-graduate course from the ailing composer. The elderly Shostakovich wrote to the authorities asking that Tishchenko be offered material support, and intervened to get his protégé’s works published. His judgment in this case was borne out by time. Tishchenko isn’t well known in the West, but he remains among the most imaginative,
musically satisfying, and intellectually stimulating composers to appear in Russia after the fall of Khrushchev.
The five-movement Symphony No. 7 was composed in 1994. The musical language is one of extended tonality, different from, but similar to, that of Shostakovich. It’s typical of several other works by Tishchenko that I’ve heard over the years, in that several of its movements present basically simple, at times deliberately simplistic thematic material, which is subjected to ever-increasing emotional bombardment in subsequent development. This is what happens in the first movement, with its jauntily complacent clarinet theme, and again in the last movement, as piccolo, violins, and tom-toms present a happy-button theme that could have been lifted from any number of less inspired American wind band symphonies over the last half century. In neither case is internal equilibrium restored after the orchestra finishes its battering; but to misquote a phrase, not getting there is half the fun. The composer’s incisive musical dialectic between opposing emotional conditions is bracing, and his inspiration never flags.
None of the movements bear titles or tempos, but the central three function as episodic side events that dimly recall the tension of Tishchenko’s musical frame. The scherzo-like second movement throws a distorted version of Debussy’s Golliwog’s Cakewalk through a seemingly endless series of funhouse mirrors. The third movement opens with a serenely beautiful oboe melody accompanied by viola that recalls the rapt mood of the slow movement from Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony. Finally, the fourth movement resembles some of Tchaikovsky’s waltz-like symphonic movements—if it were a waltz being danced by a set of 20th-century ghosts. I was reminded of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast Trilogy of novels (imagine the Addams Family as created by Charles Dickens) every time the woodwind glissandos sounded. Yablonsky and the Moscow Philharmonic were recorded live—not that you’d know it, aside from an odd cough in the third movement. The orchestra delivers a fine performance that starts to unravel in the final pair of movements: some ragged entries, fraying strings, and brass bobbles. In truth, it’s a work that reveals an orchestra’s weaknesses, with plenty of effective solos and exposed section-writing. That aside, the musicians perform their Russian hearts out in this recording, while Yablonsky is typically intense, detailed yet focused. I’m gradually coming to the opinion that this Russian émigré returned home is the best thing to hit conducting in his nation over the last couple of decades.
Clean, well-balanced sound and decent liner notes: not atypical of Naxos. The timing is short, but this one’s definitely a winner. Let’s hope the recording label offers us more Tishchenko soon.
Barry Brenesal, FANFARE
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 7, Op. 119 by Boris Tishchenko
Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1994; Russia
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