ROSLAVETS Chamber Symphony. In the Hours of the New Moon • Ilan Volkov, cond; BBC Scottish SO • HYPERION 67484 (67:38)
Nicolai Roslavets (1881–1944) was one of a group of early Soviet modernists who were overtaken and eventually vilified by Stalin’s conservative hacks. In his Fanfare review of Roslavets’s violin sonatas, Barry Brenesal points out that while Shostakovich warranted a public humiliation and resurrection, RoslavetsRead more had no such luck (if, indeed, you could call Shostakovich lucky). Roslavets’s shabby treatment continued long after his death, and it is only since perestroika that his music has been rediscovered and seriously evaluated. Recordings of his chamber music have been appearing, and Marc-André Hamelin has recorded a CD of his piano music for Hyperion, but this release is the first I have heard of this fascinating composer’s orchestral music.
The Chamber Symphony of 1934–35 (not published until 2005) was his second attempt at such a work. Scored for 18 instruments, it is both symphonic in scope and chamber-like in nature. Initially there is a resemblance to Schoenberg’s Kammersymphonie, op. 9, in the shape of the opening themes and strong presence of the horn in the texture, but Roslavets soon goes his own way. His harmony throughout is highly chromatic but still tonal, the major influence being late Scriabin; and unlike Schoenberg’s succinct masterpiece, Roslavets’s symphony is in four separate movements, running for almost an hour.
Each of the movements has a distinct personality. The first is notable for passages of vigorous counterpoint, the second for its impressionistic textures, the third for sheer momentum throughout its rondo-like structure, and the finale for its romantic sensibility. What they have in common is the composer’s contrapuntal ingenuity; he maintains interest and coherence through constant motivic imitation. The slow movement is noteworthy in this respect: its impressionistic surface is built around the endlessly unfolding examination of a rising, chromatic three-note motif, so the movement never hangs fire despite its 20-minute duration. The clarity of Roslavets’s scoring serves to emphasize his polyphonic strength.
In the Hours of the New Moon is a tone poem for full orchestra, and a much earlier composition. It followed Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy by two years and was contemporaneous with Stravinsky’s Firebird. In that context, one can hear how advanced Roslavets’s musical language was, prior to his denunciation and years of virtual exile. While Scriabin is even more recognizably present in this shimmering work—especially in the ultimate climax—the orchestration shows Roslavets fully conversant with the work of his French contemporaries.
Among the “other” Russians whose music is now appearing more widely on the recording scene, Roslavets clearly is a major figure of interest. This issue should do even more towards rehabilitating his reputation. Beautifully recorded, it is played with clarity and zest. (Just listen to the clarinet propelling the Chamber Symphony’s Scherzo.) Ilan Volkov, 31 this year, was the youngest person ever to attain the position of chief conductor with a BBC orchestra; he has led the BBC Scottish Orchestra since 2003 and is clearly a man to watch. In sum, this is a distinguished addition to a neglected composer’s growing catalog.
FANFARE: Phillip Scott
Nikolai Roslavets' Chamber Symphony is a 55-minute-long behemoth of a piece, composed in 1934/35. Note the date, which is right about the same time as the first denunciations of Shostakovich. This, and the fact that the work is openly modeled on Schoenberg's seriously formalist and decadent (if you were a member of the Soviet culture police) Chamber Symphony No. 1, and it's easy to understand why the work wasn't even published until 2005. It's an absolutely fascinating piece, strictly written in the traditional four movements, inventively scored and using a gnarly chromatic idiom that at the same time manages to titillate the ear with an indefinable Russian "something" that makes it much more than an ambitious Second Viennese School knock-off. If you're looking for music at once challenging and beguiling, you won't find a more intriguing nut to crack than this.
In the hours of the New Moon comes from the very beginning of Roslavets' career and follows closely in the footsteps of Scriabin, who at the beginning of the 20th century was considered very trendy and daring. As you might expect, it's a lushly textured, opulent hunk of late-Romantic orchestration, and about as far from the formal and intellectual rigors of the Chamber Symphony as possible.
While these two works won't give you much of a sense of a strong personal idiom (they are too different for that), they do offer ample proof of just how talented and worthy a composer Roslavets was. The performances certainly help: they are very well played and strongly profiled under conductor Ilan Volkov, and expertly recorded. I would like to have another version of the Chamber Symphony on hand for purposes of comparison, but that's just because the music itself is so interesting. We owe Volkov, Hyperion, and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra a major debt of gratitude for managing this intrepid and wholly successful musical rescue operation with such conviction.
Chamber Symphonyby Nikolai A. Roslavets Conductor:
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century Written: 1934; USSR Length: 55 Minutes 14 Secs.
In the hours of the new moonby Nikolai A. Roslavets Conductor:
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century Written: 1910 Length: 11 Minutes 40 Secs.
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Unique & ObscureNovember 25, 2011By Christian Withers (San Antonio, TX)See All My Reviews"Unfortunately there isn't more orchestra music from this composer, though there are some recordings of piano and chamber music. Roslavets' work is an element of early 20th century repertoire that is quite obscure. It sounds a bit like Scriabin at times, but slightly more modern, and uniquely beautiful. He seems to have been heading in a similar direction as Schoenberg (though easier on the ears) until Soviet authorities basically forced him to write "safe" music. So the disc is a bittersweet taste of what might have been, but definitely worth hearing!"Report Abuse