Gyorgy SVIRIDOV (1915-1998)
The Snow-Storm - Musical illustrations to Pushkin's story (1964) [27:14]
Pushkin’s Garland - Concerto for Chorus (1978-80) [35:00]
Five Choruses to Lyrics by Russian Poets (3) (1958) [13:33]
Large Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Radio/Vladimir Fedoseyev (Snow-Storm); Novosibirsk Chamber Choir/Boris Pevzner, Moscow Chamber Choir/Vladimir Minin (Garland); Leningrad Glinka Choir/Vladislav Chernushenko (Five Choruses)
rec. USSR, 1986/7. DDD
ALTO ALC1317 [76:12]

The Sviridov works on show here are a big orchestral suite drawn from film music, a major piece for unaccompanied choir and three songs from a cycle of five choral settings of Russian poets.

The Kursk-born Gyorgy Sviridov, amongst much else, wrote the Pathetique Oratorio (review ~ review) and favoured music for voices, often choirs but also solos. Amongst his singer-champions are Dmitri Hvorostovsky and the late Elena Obraztsova. He had a 'weakness' for the words of Pushkin - entirely forgivable.

This site has reviewed other Sviridov discs over the years: The Blizzard/Pushkin Garland (Melodiya), an orchestral collection (Boheme) and a choral disc (Russian Disc) but this only scratches the surface. Unrecorded, as far as I know, are two pre-War piano concertos, one complete and one incomplete symphony, two string quartets dating from just after the war and Brightlights - an operetta in three acts.

The Snow-Storm is represented by a meaty suite in nine gem-like episodes. Its saturated romance is delivered full-on but is all very tasteful and bursting with telling ideas. It's the sort of music where there's often a tear balanced precariously in the corner of the eye, so be warned. Try Spring and Autumn followed by Romance. After all this sentiment, tr.6 is a pastiche march of Pushkin's time - cuirassiers and oompah bands. The predominance of what we hear is movingly close to Prokofiev's incidental music for Eugene Onegin and in more recent times to Howard Blake (try the score for Riddle of the Sands). Everything is lit from within by an electric Russian intensity. Once you have heard Winter Road (tr. 9) you will wonder why people are not queuing up to license this music for commercials, signature tunes and incidental music.

The voice figures in the remainder of this well-filled disc. Pushkin’s Garland - Concerto for Chorus is all magical poise, recorded in a reverberant acoustic that does not unfocus the sound. Instead it makes the voices hum with warmth. My Sweetheart (tr. 11), among ten movements, is an impressive example of stunningly unanimous work from the male singers. Their sound is delivered with phenomenal force - both outright strength and passion. The women singers also bring the power of a gale to their singing and within it deliver Sviridov's strange swaying harmonies. There are many subtle touches along the way including some breathtaking distant tiering in Echo (tr. 13). Gong, piano and triangle join the voices for Grecian Feast. The choirs and conductor Minin uphold an illustrious tradition also reflected in Alexander Sveshnikov's Melodiya 1960s recording of the Rachmaninov Vespers. The final Magpie Chatter is all very pecked out with the men providing a boum-boum-boum-boum ostinato and the women romping fierily along on the top line. Solo voices add character and colour. It's clearly from the tradition also exploited by Rachmaninov in his Three Songs for voices and orchestra. The basses are fulsomely recorded throughout the Garland and the sopranos are all fierce attack on exposed high-notes. Everything glowers with resonance. The precision of the singing is remarkable as is the attention to shaping the words.

It was generous of Alto to add three of the Five Choruses to Lyrics by Russian Poets even if it did involve dismembering these from the complete sequence of five. The Melodiya original stopped with The Snowstorm and The Garland. The memorable Gogol lyric, Of My Lost Youth, with soloist V. Timonin, is strangely prayerful given its subject matter. Then come two Esenin settings: On a blue night - an equable companion to Stanford's Bluebird with its equally 'blue' sound. Sviridov here changes a shimmer to a hum. Then there's The herd of horses where contrasts of distance and closeness are artfully used.

All credit to Alto for giving us the words of the Pushkin Garland even if it is in English-only when the singing is in Russian. There is no sign of the words for the three Choruses to Lyrics by Russian Poets. The predictably useful notes are by James Murray, one of the unsung heroes of the classical music world.

Another triumph for Alto, who have a gift for choosing fine and revealing recordings from the worldwide marketplace.

Rob Barnett

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