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Boris TISCHENKO (b.1939)
Beatrice – Choreo-symphonic cycle
Dante Symphony No.1 ‘Among the Living’ (1997) [28:23]
Dante Symphony No.2 ‘Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here’ (2000) [39:43]
St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra/Yuri Kochnev (No.1)
St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra/Nikolai Alexeev (No.2)
rec. Grand Hall of St Petersburg Philharmonic, live in concert, 20 March 1998 (No.1) and 8 May 2001 (No.2)


Experience Classicsonline

Tischenko is a convinced symphonist. Even when he writes a concerto – such as the second violin concerto, an exceptionally fine work - he refers to it as a ‘violin symphony’. It’s no surprise that his symphonic ventures, given his literary depth, have included a French Symphony (after Anatole France) nor that his immersion in Dante’s The Divine Comedy should have led to successive symphonies on the theme. The First Dante Symphony was written in 1997 and the Fifth in 2005. Along the way the schema is enriched by taking in other works by Dante.

We have here the first two symphonies of the symphonic cycle called Beatrice – Choreo-symphonic cycle. The First is a prologue outlining Dante’s journey to the next world; The Second takes him to the Inferno as incidentally does the Third. The Fourth concerns itself with Purgatory and the Fifth reaches the uplands, as it were, of Paradise.

Tischenko has responded to the esoteric and hidden textual meanings of The Divine Comedy by embedding some musical codification of his own. Much of this relates to Beatrice but to other characters as well, to whom Tischenko has assigned specific numerical analogues. Complex though this sounds, it need not especially detain the listener who will respond on other grounds.  The First Symphony, a one-movement twenty-eight minute work is biographical and presents both Dante and Beatrice as children, before passing onto her death and Dante’s subsequent banishment. What we hear on this disc is the world premiere performance.

The quietude of the opening passages summons up the early life well, with Tischenko ensuring that the orchestration remains light and malleable. But soon scurrying figures accelerate matters biographical. The wind writing turns acidic and there’s an insistent and satiric Shostakovich-derived venom to the writing as well as melancholia in the undulating violin line. The sense of desolation is palpable. A lower brass interlude moves onwards to percussive agitato, full of ferment; not gracious, but terse and explosive. There are plenty of coughs in this live performance of a work which sits squarely in the post-Shostakovich canon, vague though that may be. I’ve amended the subtitle from ‘Among the Live’ to ‘Among the Living’.

The Second Symphony, a two part work, is also heard in its first ever performance. It opens tonally in sonata form with a kind of ‘forest dark’ ambience. From around seven minutes a solo trumpet and percussion statements begin to start unsettling and destabilising the writing. Soon we are in full ‘wind machine cries’ territory with a Hellish vortex not far behind, evoking the first three circles of Hell. It’s pictorial writing, filmic, stark and implacable. The brass writing is angular and there are satiric lower brass dialogues; Devilish. The second part reprises the wind cries for the unfortunates in the fourth circle. Again the writing is unremittingly gaunt and terse, martial and unyielding. There’s something almost masochistic about it all, as well as repetitive. To those unsympathetic such remorseless gloom will be wearying. The symphony ends uneasily and gravely, as one would expect.

It’s best, critically speaking, to hear the complete cycle of five symphonies before leaping to judgement. The First two don’t seek to ingratiate themselves especially. The first, given the early biographical focus, is the more clement, and reflective. But we are soon swept up into the inescapable frenzy and harrowing drama of the Second Symphony. One might also wonder whether there is another biography underlying this one - a harrowing of the Soviet soil, perhaps - that might inform or be reflective of Dante’s elemental poetic loss.

Jonathan Woolf




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