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Ukraine Composers Series - Set 2
CD 1
Boris YAROVINSKY (b. 1922)
Fragments for the ballet About Marina [26:52]
Peremozhtsy [4:57]
Korolyoke for xylophone and orchestra [4:52]
Symphony No. 4 [26:05]
CD 2
Petro GAIDAMAKA (1907-1981)
Oboe Concerto [9:13]
Polyphonic Suite Vesnitsa for harp, percussion and string orchestra [22:40]
Variations on a Theme by M Lysenko for cello and orchestra [14:44]
Valentin PONOMARENKO (b. 1928)
The Brotherhood of Dniepr and Dombras - excerpts [19:40]
G Michailov (xylophone); Mikhailo Armetsev (oboe); Volodomir Shokhov (cello)
Kharkov Philharmonic Orchestra/Vakhtang Jordania
rec. no information provided
ANGELOK1 CD-9918-19 [62:46 + 66:17]
Ukraine Composers Series - Set 3
CD 1
Volodomir ZOLOTUKHIN (b.1936)
Symphonic Suite from the ballet Into the Fire of Greece [28:25]
Igor KOVACH (b. 1924)
Tavria - symphonic poem [18:07]
Cello Concertino [8:29]
Suite No. 1 from the ballet Singing Fairy Tale [14:44]
Symphonic Dithyramb [3:40]
CD 2
Boris YAROVINSKY (b. 1922)
Zaklik [3:42]
Valentin BORISOV (b.1901)
Romantic Tale for Viola and Chamber Orchestra [10:28]
Music for String Orchestra [16:10]
Violin Concerto [19:19]
Divertissement for Orchestra [17:34]
Volodomir Krugliakov (cello); Yevgeni Amstibovsky (viola); Igor Shapovlov (violin)
Kharkov Philharmonic Orchestra/Vakhtang Jordania
rec. no information provided
ANGELOK1 CD-9922-23 [73:25 + 67:13] 


Experience Classicsonline

Ukraine has a rich classical tradition. From the 1920s onwards composers such as Lev Revutsky and Boris Lyatoshinsky made an impact. Their first symphonies date respectively from 1916-18 and 1918-20. The former's two symphonies were recorded on Melodiya LPs. The latter has had his symphonies on CPO and Russian Disc. These figures jostled with less famous composers such as Mikhail Verikovsky and Mykola Leontovich. In the 1950s and 1960s a dichotomy emerged between the state conformists and the dissonants. The former included Andry Shtogarenko (time for reissue of the Violin Concerto on CD) and Klimenty Dominchen and the latter, most famously Valentin Silvestrov. 

This is a valuable series even if Angelok1 give us so little information about the composers and still less about the music and the recordings. I have no idea when these pieces were written nor when and where the recordings were made. That said we can guess that the sessions happened in Kharkov sometime between 1980 and 2004. As for the music it probably dates from between 1950 and 1980. There is no applause so this will be material recorded for broadcast - and going by the very lively acoustic the venue sounds like a large public concert venue rather than a radio studio. 

What information there is about the composers – and it’s precious little - is printed on the inside face of the rear insert for each of the two single width jewel cases. 

Yarovinsky graduated from the Kharkov Conservatoire in 1949 having taken part in World War 2. His ballet About Marina, from which we hear nine segments, is an eclectic piece. It encompasses Bernstein-like brashness (3), a Mantovani swoon (4) as well as Tin Pan Alley and Broadway commercial swing (5). These elements also appear in some of the Eshpai ballet music recorded on Albany. There's plenty of drumkit hiss and whisper and as well as a moonlit Glenn Miller orchestral croon. Perhaps this is what those big Soviet musicals of the Stalin era sounded like. There's a touch of Khachaturian's Masquerade music about this, too. We even get some melodrama in the penultimate section. On the other hand there's tragic gestural writing for stuttering drums and defiant bitter brass at the very end - sumptuous rhetoric.

His brief Peremozhtsy has the wild-eyed triumphant air of a military celebration yet splashed with brash romance. Korolyoke is a populist effusion - pretty much a Carry On score. It's just as zany as the recently recorded Skalkottas Nocturnal Amusement for the same forces ... no, really! 

We then put such things aside for the three movement Symphony No. 4. A busily forward rushing first movement has the air of an exuberant buffeting attack on some hilltop fortress. Much the same can be said of the finale which is suffused with a confidently smiling sense of an upland future. Only the occasional grey cloud scuds across the field of vision. Without the complexity of Svetlanov's own symphony and Khrennikov's First this has something of their urgency, headlong despair and surging joy. It's dashing and desperate music written, as with all of Yarovinsky's scores here, with an easy gift for accessibility. It draws on the most whistleable aspects of Prokofiev, Kabalevsky, Shebalin and Boiko. The second movement of the Symphony is very romantic and always tonal. There's lissom writing for woodwind and fine harp flourishes as well as grand hieratic address from the brass benches. 

The Kharkhov Orchestra are on very fine form though there seemed to be a hint of distortion here and there in the recording. You also note a very resonant and lively acoustic accentuating gloriously vibrant writing for horns and trumpets. 

Gaidamaka graduated from the Kiev Conservatory in 1957 having studied with Boris Lyatoshinsky. His career moved between Kiev and Kharkov. In 1970 he was Secretary of the Ukrainian Composers' Union in Donetsk. His short single movement Oboe Concerto mixes whirling dance elements in a rather furious Hungarian Dallok attire with folksy romanticism veering close to the English pastoral. This fusion works very well with a closely recorded soloist melding with an equally up-close and personal harp. The pointed and dancing oboe skips and smiles slyly. It rises and falls, borne up on waves of village-collective joy. The composer also adds themes carried by dashes of broadly brushed romantic string writing. Vesnitsa is referred to as a 'Polyphonic Suite'. It is in five movements. The first is memorable for a benign romantic melody and the chilly singing impacts of the xylophone. The big band strings are plush with the air of Capriol and Elizabethan Serenade. It ends with a sturdy fugue which is the least interesting part of an otherwise attractive work. The Lysenko Variations are again very warm, rounded and romantic as well as vibrant in the manner of the Rococo Variations. There’s none of Yarovinsky's populist commercialism. It is rather like a mix Massenet, Glazunov and Tchaikovsky. There are some grandiloquent moments where Gaidamaka touches on tragedy as at 9:43 onwards. 

We then hear three symphonic extracts from Ponomarenko's The Brotherhood of Dniepr and Dombras. This is a feral and torrid affair. It’s a sort of superheated Manfred or Francesca da Rimini alternating with lovely writing for the oboe and an agreeably reedy clarinet. This is very pleasing - sounding for all the world like a backdrop to a monumental and turbulent love affair played out across a great battlefield. The brass strain at the engineers' capabilities yet the recording has enormous presence whether at triple forte or pianissimo. There is a more festive air to the final segment of the work - almost balletic. The story has ended happily. There were moments in hearing this work when I thought of Gogol's Taras Bulba but there is little tragedy here. Soviet realism has again regained the sunlit crest. Apart from the perhaps too facile ending - again skilfully done - this work is the highlight of an entertaining set. 

The third and so far final 2CD set in the Angelok1 line-up starts with Zolotukhin's seven movement suite from the ballet Into the Fire of Greece. Here the recording is very good indeed - not something that could always be said of the second volume. Frankly this is wonderfully tuneful music with stratospheric and agreeably braying trumpet writing lofted and sustained. There are fine leonine melodies and plenty of rhythmic interest - a sort of Ukrainian Moeran. In fact the first movement of the suite is a rhapsodic pastoral and could easily be heard as a collaboration between Howells and Goossens - a sort of warm romance with a liquid sense of forward motion and rawly ecstatic trumpets. The music patters in nocturnal tension and even teeters near the margin of dissonance in section 3. The final part has a radiant and leisurely-paced melody carrying all the long-breathed stamina of Khachaturian's Phrygia Adagio. 

Kovach announces himself immediately as of a later generation. Tavria’s dissonance and complexity appear to be an evolution of Scriabin's writing for hieratic trumpet. There is a clear narrative arc to this piece which ends in a tense but smiling meditation moving into silence. Kovach's Cello Concertino is peppery and rhythmically unmistakable. It is communicative in the way that vigorous writing by Shostakovich holds the attention. It has the accentuated grunt of Herrmann's string orchestra score for Psycho. Kovach's ballet music for the Singing Fairy Tale is spiky, mysterious and vivid. It makes constantly imaginative use of spatial effects. He shows himself a master of the orchestra in music that has the pointed precision of Shostakovich and the rhythmic and haunting folk spirit of the Prokofiev ballets. Section 3 (tr.12) uses a deep-lunged melody from the same family as the gorgeous tune in Prokofiev's Seventh Symphony. The finale has a pattering determination and agreeably grating woodwind tone. Given the hiss this is surely a transcription of analogue recording. Finally we come to the very brief Symphonic Dithyramb. This is exciting music in the style of Prokofiev - a restless victorious wave where pennants snap and crack in the brazen gale. Some of the writing recalls the Classical Symphony. 

The second disc of volume 3 takes us back to Yarovinsky with the urgent cinematographic rock and rumble of Zaklik. This involves more brash patriotic flag-waving with brass as roaringly abrasive as they are splendid. 

The rest of the disc is devoted to more than an hour of Borisov. We start with his soulful Romantic Tale which shares atmosphere with Rubbra's Soliloquy and with the Gordon Jacob First Viola Concerto. Fairytale glisten meets melancholic romance. The result picks up on film scores such as Hermann's Marnie. The four movement Music for String Orchestra is similarly doleful and pregnant with severity in the first and third movements. There’s a sinister dancing pizzicato in the second. The music moves between the worlds of Van Dieren and Karl Amadeus Hartmann. Borisov's Violin Concerto is in three movements the first of which is sedate and reflective - soon establishing an atmosphere similar to Respighi's Concerto Gregoriano. The middle movement is more sunny and optimistic yet staid and dignified. The finale dances with a greater brilliance and pointed folk-dance energy. The farewell to Borisov comes with the four movement Divertissement: no surface glamour, patently sincere and serious music with little swirls of harp and wispy interjections. The last movement is a wild rumpus - a dance of the coven and of the clowns with percussion pointing up the rhythmic contours. 

All three volumes in this fascinating sequence from Angelok1 are available separately. 

It's a pity that this series is not better documented although there is far more information in the first set. If anyone can fill out dates and background for these works then we will be happy to add this to the review.

Rob Barnett

Link to Review of Volume 1


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