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Mikhail IPPOLITOV-IVANOV (1859-1935)
Symphony No. 1 in E minor, Op. 46 (1908) [36:14]
Turkish Fragments, Op. 62 (1930) [14:48]
Turkish March, Op. 55 (1932) [4:48]
Singapore Symphony Orchestra/Choo Hoey
rec. 1984, Victoria Memorial Hall, Singapore
NAXOS 8.573508 [55:50]

For decades, Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov was the one-trick pony of Russian music, known, if at all, only for the rousing, splashy Procession of the Sardar from his Caucasian Sketches suite (I had an abbreviated piano reduction of it in a book called Melodies Everyone Loves: it was that sort of piece). During the CD boom the Marco Polo label, the full-priced member of the Naxos stable, offered a fresh recording of the Sketches -- which still didn't suffer from excessive attention -- along with a full series of his longer-form symphonic works. This program was originally among those issues, which explains the comparatively antique recording date. I'd owned that LP and, later, its CD transfer, so for me, this was like revisiting an old friend.

The symphony's opening wind solos -- a plaintive oboe, a searching clarinet, a warm horn -- immediately and unmistakably place it in the Russian Romantic tradition. The lyrical, conjunct themes are the sort people are apt to call "melodic," although it's the rhythmic patterns, more than the tunes themselves that resonate. In each of the outer movements, the first theme's motivic rhythm continues as an accompaniment to a broader, cantabile group. After a peremptory call to attention, the Scherzo, with scurrying moto perpetuo violins, is active, set off by a chorale-like, expansive Trio and given a condensed recap. The Elegia's simple, square woodwind intonations recall Orthodox chant, though Ippolitov-Ivanov otherwise makes little use of Russian melodic motifs. Throughout the score, the composer's deployment of solo wind colours is almost profligate, though still fetching.

The Turkish Fragments supposedly reflect the composer's interest in "the music of the Turkic peoples." The suite is similar in spirit to the Caucasian Sketches, colourful and rhythmically infectious, although again, one remembers the effect more than the actual themes. The opening Caravan, save for some modal melodic bits, could be a hearty dance out of Smetana or Weinberger. At Rest begins in a Khachaturian-ish dreamy mood before moving into a sort of tarantella (!) and then a graceful waltz episode. Night, too, recalls Khachaturian, this time in a waltzy reflection of the Lullaby from Gayaneh. The closing Festival returns to a cheerful Slavic bustle.

In the way that other composers wrote "concert waltzes" (i.e., not for dancing) and "concert études" (you get the idea), the Turkish March is a "concert march": it cuts a strong rhythmic and melodic profile, but it's hard to visualize anyone actually marching to it. The annotator, Keith Anderson, hears Turkish influence in it, but I don't.

The Singapore Symphony under Choo Hoey's direction plays everything capably; the homophonic chords in the symphony's first movement are powerful. I can imagine any of the London orchestras supplying greater tonal finish, but not necessarily mustering a comparable empathy and enthusiasm. The reproduction is excellent.

I'm delighted to have this again.

Stephen Francis Vasta
Previous review: Paul Corfield Godfrey

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