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Nikolai MIASKOVSKY (1881-1950)
Symphony No. 6 in E flat minor Op. 23 (1921-23) [64.30]
Göteborgs Symfoniska Kör
Göteborgs Symfoniker/Neeme Järvi
rec. August 1998, Göteborg, Konserthuset. DDD
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 471 655-2 [64.30]

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I last surveyed the various versions of this Symphony about six years ago [review]. Details of competing versions are given below.

Miaskovskyís Symphony No. 6 was premiered in Moscow at the Bolshoi Theatre by the Bolshoi Orchestra and Chorus on 4 May 1924. The conductor was Nikolai Golovanov. Its predecessor, which bids to be Miaskovsky's most popular epic-style symphony, was a product of the war years and is best heard, if you can find it, on a deleted Olympia conducted by Konstantin Ivanov.

The Sixth is clearly a descendant of the Fifth though it is tougher, truculent and more sphinx-like. It was welcomed by critics and audiences alike and received performances in London and Philadelphia where Stokowski was one of the composer's great advocates. Vienna's Universal Edition got behind the score and produced it in a de luxe engraving.

Järvi's version goes straight to the top quartile of the lists above my previous leader - the still very good Stankovsky on Marco Polo. The Gothenburg orchestra give a rabidly excoriating and tempestuous performance - listen to the typical cavalry charge at 11.30 in the allegro feroce. Listen also to the lovingly held tenuto at 8.34 in the andante appassionato third movement which reaches darkly towards both Tchaikovsky's Pathétique and Rachmaninov's Second Symphony. May Day flags flutter and crack in the brilliant sunshine and the sharp-cold breeze in the allegro vivace.

The composer admitted to the effect on this work of the raw, insolent and braggingly sung songs of the French Revolution - Ça Ira and La Carmagnole. Another 'compass bearing' is Emile Verhaeren's verse-play Les Aubes (1898). Verhaeren's writings were also the source of inspiration for both Elgar and Goossens. By the way the more vivacious sections of the second movement are suggestive of Elgar's Second Symphony.

There is little for the chorus to sing and what there is in the Più sostenuto part of the finale where in addition to some vocalising they are called on to sing the six lines of the hymn of the Russian raskolniks (religious dissenters). These describe in the awed tone of the returning Enkidu in Martinů's Epic of Gilgamesh the experience of seeing the soul leaving a dead body. The Gothenburg choir invest their brief role with more colour, feeling, radiance and mystical weight than any of their counterparts.

Miaskovsky stands in line of succession to the Tchaikovsky of neurosis and noble depression; after all the Dies Irae does weave its way into many of the pages of this work. You need to think in terms of the darker episodes of Manfred, of Francesca and of the Pathétique and then add the twentieth century excoriant of disillusion and the vitriol of war. One can readily trace much later voices such as Shostakovich (in Razliv style) and the great trumpet-lofted adagios of Khachaturian.

Svetlanovís version of the Sixth Symphony is given a tempestuous, whipped and fleet-footed reading; the sort of speed you might have expected from Golovanov on an impetuous day. In fact the similar vigour, torque and speed is found by Dmitri Liss in the latest recording of the Sixth on Warner Classics. Järvi is better recorded than Svetlanov and Liss sounds excellent too. The Dudarova (on a long-vanished Olympia OCD510) is better than serviceable and well engineered but it sprawls somewhat and lacks the imaginative heft to be found in the other recordings. Oddly enough Dudarova was in the Ostankino recording studios in July 1992 while Svetlanov was in the middle of recording the Miaskovsky cycle. Kondrashin's mono Sixth on Russian Disc (if you can find it) is properly revered but its mono tracking and papery sound quality renders it of historic value rather than being recommendable in the face of Liss, Svetlanov, Järvi and the still surprisingly good Stankovsky (Marco Polo). Given that Stankovsky is a degree cooler than both Järvi and Svetlanov it is between Liss, Järvi and Svetlanov. If you want the work with the choral finale then go for Järvi or Liss; if you are content with the orchestral only version (and the choirís role is only in the finale and then very brief) then Svetlanov on Olympia is the one to opt for.

One of the great moments in Western classical music comes with the flute song that unwinds in the second movement over an ostinato derived from the Dies Irae. Miaskovsky disdains hollow triumphs for his finale which subsides into a sunset of contemplative radiance.

David Fanning's notes are a match for the best recorded version to date. What I wouldn't give to hear Järvi and the Gothenburgers in Miaskovsky's masterworks: the Fifth and Twenty-Fourth Symphonies.

A word of praise to the designers: whoever took the valiant decision to print the words of the booklet in larger clear arial-style print - black on white - deserves an award. The booklet is unpretentious and serves the highest mission of design: to mix eye-catching effect with utility. Attained to perfection.

By the way, the Göteborgs Symfoniker is none other than the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra under its Swedish language name. With apologies to those who already knew.

Now DG should give the most earnest consideration to following this up. We need more Miaskovsky and letís have a completion of the Maximilian Steinberg-Järvi series. Then time to turn to the symphonies of Lev Knipper, Lev Revutsky and, most urgently, Yuri Shaporin and the piano concertos of Dzerzhinsky.
Rob Barnett

COMPARATOR RECORDINGS of Miaskovsky Symphony No. 6

Kondrashin (1959)
22.19 9.00 16.09 17.36
Stankovsky (1991) 22.19 9.28 14.14 17.18
Dudarova (1992) 24.56 8.27 15.56 20.51
Järvi (1998) 22.26 8.56 15.06 18.02


Anima Moscow Chamber Choir
Symphony Orchestra of Russia/Veronika Dudarova
rec July 1992, Moscow, stereo, DDD
OLYMPIA OCD510 [70.10]


Yurlov Russian Choir
USSRSO/Kirill Kondrashin
rec 7 Feb 1959
RUSSIAN DISC RD CD 15 008 [65.18]


Symphony No. 6 (1923)
Slovak National Opera Choir
Czecho-Slovak Radio SO/Robert Stankovsky
rec The Concert Hall, Slovak Radio, Bratislava, 25-30 Mar 1991
MARCO POLO 8.223301 [63.28]

There are of course several other Miaskovsky Sixths including Svetlanov on Olympia in 1965 and a live Kondrashin in 1978 on Melodiya. I have not been able to make direct comparison yet but may well do so when I tackle the Liss which is the latest version to be issued. RB


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