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Vissarion SHEBALIN (1902-1963)
Orchestral Music - Volume Two
Orchestral Suite No.3, Op.61 (1935, arr. Leonid Feigin, 1963) [21:29]
Orchestral Suite No.4, Op.62 (1958, arr. Vladislav Agafonnikov, 1986) [18:24]
Ballet Suite (1958, arr. Leonid Feigin, 1973) [29:19]
Siberian Symphony Orchestra/Dmitry Vasiliev
rec. 2012/2018, Omsk Philharmonic Hall

These are premiere recordings of pieces prepared from Vissarion Shebalin’s theatre music. The Third Orchestral Suite was composed in 1935 for a radio drama of Pushkin’s The Stone Guest made by the theatre director Meyerhold (shot by a firing squad five years later on typical trumped-up charges of spying). It was arranged at the composer’s request by Leonid Feigin in 1963, the year of Shebalin’s death, and cast for substantial orchestral forces organised into eight compact sections. Despite a few ominous moments the music is essentially largely benign in atmosphere and frequently borders on the perky. It’s also terpsichorean, with a rich Iberian dance and a sensuous Habanera, plenty of wind colour (three flutes and three clarinets are included in the score) and castanets to die for in the Fast Dance. For the gloom quotient, turn to the final panel where the Stone Guest – the Commendatore in Don Giovanni, Pushkin having drawn on Don Juan – returns to incite a powerful culmination of the work.

The Fourth Suite started life in 1958 as incidental music for Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan, and premièred in Moscow the following year. It was arranged by Vladislav Agafonnikov as recently as 1986. This is much lighter and brighter than the earlier suite, something of a soufflé really. It’s full of waltzes, one inclining to Prokofiev – grand, punchy and confident – but overall there’s not a great deal of variety, despite the arranger’s best efforts and the dances bleed into each other without much sense of memorability. I would exempt from that criticism the penultimate Dance of the Dolls, which sounds uncannily like ballet music by Tchaikovsky.

The final piece to consider is the Ballet Suite, begun in 1958, with Act One and the Prologue complete, but the remainder existing only in sketches. Feigin arranged the music into a concrete form and it was duly published in 1973, a decade after the composer’s death. As usual with the composer his writing for winds and his rhythmic zest are admirable. The way his music can quietly and exponentially grow in colour, density and opulence is also something to be savoured. Here, one also finds a kind of gritty power charged with something like terror (try track 18), a grave Adagio. By contrast the Galop finale has Khachaturian-like breeziness to it.

Paul Conway’s notes are characteristically full of detail, finely expressed.

This second volume in Toccata’s sequence of the orchestral music of Shebalin has something of a Good Time feel to it, despite some shadows and turbulence. The music is performed ardently by the Siberian Symphony under the galvanizing baton of Dmitry Vasiliev.

Jonathan Woolf

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