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Emil TABAKOV (b. 1947)
Complete Symphonies - Volume 2
Symphony No. 1 (1981-82) [34:56]
Concerto for Viola and Orchestra (2007) [38:54]
Alexander Zemtsov (viola)
Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestra/Emil Tabakov
rec. 2009/2014, Bulgarian National Radio, Sofia
First Recordings

The prospect of reviewing a recording on the Toccata label is always an exciting one. On most occasions the composer is one I've never heard of before or, if I have, the music is an unknown quantity. With this release, featuring the music of the Bulgarian conductor/composer Emil Tabakov, I’m not exactly a novice. For some time I've been enjoying a disc of his Cello Concerto played by Tim Hugh paired with the colourful orchestral canvas Ad Infinitum (Gega GD358).

I was interested to read in the booklet notes that Tabakov has a predilection for large symphonic forms and, in the First Symphony dating from 1981-82, this is borne out with everything writ large. It makes a striking impact from the very opening bars with a boldly declaimed brass fanfare. The overall impression throughout is conflict, unease, menace and portent. Midway in the first movement the music becomes agitated with swirling strings and woodwinds creating a whirlwind of sonic effervescence. Even at the beginning of the Largo middle movement the listener is grabbed by the scuff of the neck with dissonant chords. Soon a solo piccolo enters, weaving a lonely thread. There follows a sort of passacaglia with each variation passed to a different orchestral section. Here the scoring becomes quite sparse, and the textures light. At the close the lonely piccolo is given the last word. The finale grows out of the ensuing silence. Tabakov is a master of creating atmosphere and a menacing backdrop opens up once again. Towards the end he really turns the heat up, with those brass fanfares making a final stance.

The Viola Concerto is much more recent, composed in 2007, and premiered by Alexander Zemtsov in 2012. This studio recording was made two years later, again Zemtsov is the soloist. Primus inter pares aptly describes the solo viola’s role. Although large orchestral forces are called for, the loud sections seem confined to the orchestra alone. When the soloist is playing, Tabakov scales the orchestra back, pitching it at chamber music level. I found that he uses a similar modus operandi in his Cello Concerto. The Viola Concerto sits well with the First Symphony. The shared sentiments of passion, drama, portent and anguish underscore each work. In the first movement a Largo section bookends a more animated middle. The composer incorporates a cadenza, its tortuous narrative eloquently addressed by the soloist. The central movement is also marked Largo, and I noticed some vivid colourful orchestration at play. In the finale Tabakov ups the pace, and the menacing ostinatos could sit easily in the soundtrack of a film score. The Concerto's solo part is no mean feat, virtuosically demanding and rhythmically complex. Zemtsov's technically assured playing reaps rich dividends. The engineers have struck an ideal balance between soloist and orchestral forces, which is a plus.

This is Volume 2 in what promises to be a complete symphony cycle. Tabakov can boast a total of nine symphonies to date. Brian Wilson has already reviewed Volume 1 featuring the Eighth Symphony. The orchestral playing is vivid, and I welcome the wealth of orchestral detail revealed in the performances; it’s certainly an advantage having the composer conduct his own score. Paul Conway's superb, informative annotations are an added bonus.
Stephen Greenbank



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