One of Shostakovich's closest musical confidants and staunchest supporters, Vissarion Shebalin was a musician of unusual dedication and integrity. He was among the Eight Soviet Composers discussed in Gerald Abraham's 1943 book of that name, and he became an indefatigable teacher, numbering among his pupils Khrennikov, Denisov, Karetnikov and legions of others. As a composer he is best known, or at least most written about, for his 1930 dramatic symphony on Mayakovsky's poem Lenin, available until recently on an Olympia CD.
That is a worthy but dull piece, uncomfortable in its attempt to marry demagoguery with traditional symphonic values. The two symphonies recorded here are hardly unproblematic either, but they do show farRead more more of Shebalin's genuine creative spirit. The First has coincidental similarities with Shostakovich's symphonic debut; both works were completed in 1925, both were graduation pieces (the 23-year-old Shebalin was in Moscow, the 18-year-old Shostakovich in Leningrad), both are in F minor. However, Shebalin's First is in three big, not to say unwieldy movements, deeply indebted to the dense-woven, academic language of his teacher Miaskovsky, and with none of the surprise tactics and stylistic juggling acts which made Shostakovich's First such a sensation. The sense of inner struggle and seriousness is intermittently compelling, and there are moments of bleak poetry, with some impressive sustained musical thought towards the end of the finale. But too many of the ideas are unfocused in character and the pervasive chromaticism all too often chokes their development. Even a highly capable performance, such as the one Mark Ermler directs here, cannot make it a particularly memorable experience.
The four-movement Third Symphony came ten years later, just before the Lady Macbeth affair (in which Shebalin was almost the only one to speak up for Shostakovich). It is dedicated to Shostakovich, and momentary echoes of the latter's scherzo style jostle for position alongside continuing indebtedness to Miaskovsky. Many of the First Symphony's failings are repaired, including its prolixity, and Gergiev conducts the score with real urgency. Some audible edits apart, recording quality is decent.
Shebalin is a composer who put notes to work in the service of craftsmanly ideals. Never is there any question of his selling Out to ideology of any kind. That may not have been enough to produce enduring masterpieces, and it was not enough to enable him to communicate effectively during the years of the Stalinist freeze. However, it is certainly enough to make Olympia's initiative worthy of applause and deserving of success. Dare we hope for the Second Symphony (generally rated higher than the First) and the Fourth (a commemoration of the post-Revolution Civil War)?
Symphony no 1 in F minor, Op. 6by Vissarion Shebalin Conductor:
USSR State Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century Written: 1925; USSR Length: 44 Minutes 45 Secs.
Symphony no 3 in C major, Op. 17by Vissarion Shebalin Conductor:
USSR State Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century Written: 1934-1935; USSR Length: 32 Minutes 57 Secs.
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Really goodSeptember 22, 2013By paul m. (east northport, NY)See All My Reviews"If you like Myaskovsky or Khrenikov then this is for you. Great adagios and excellent finishes. I love it. I must obtain more music by Shebalin."Report Abuse
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