SAYGUN: Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 34. Piano Concerto No. 2, OP. 71.
KARAYEV: Symphony No. 3. Leyla and Mejnun. Don Quixote (Symphonic Engravings).
BISCHOFF: Symphony No. 2 in D minor. Introduction & Rondo.
In June 2005 this site mentioned a superb recording of music of of Turkish composer Ahmed Adnan Saygun, the Violin Concerto, Op. 44, Symphony No. 4, and Suite, Op. 14 (REVIEW) cpo surely is doing their part to rectify the lack of recordings of Saygun's music, and now we can thank them again for this issue of the two brilliant piano concertos. The first concerto was composed 1951-1957; obviously Saygun spent much time on it. Concerto No. 2 didn't appear until 1985 and was written for Güslin Onay, a student of the composer. She gave the premiere performance and continues to champion Saygun's music. Onay was soloist in the first recording of the two concertos issued by Koch (no longer available); here she is in spectacular form in these exotic scores with unique textures. Onay has made many recordings but it appears this is the only one available in the U.S. Based on it, I'd be very interested in her CD coupling of live performances of the Tchaikovsky First and Rachmaninoff Third. Audio on this new cpo issue is outstanding, as usual with the label. Recommended!
cpo moves to Russia for their 2-CD set of all four symphonies of Dmitri Kabalevsky (1904-1987) who enjoyed a prominent position on the Russian musical scene throughout his entire life. The Soviet government recognized him with awards and positions of authority—not that he didn't deserve deserve them purely on his musical merits, but he never made any waves and got along just fine in the Soviet bureaucracy. Best known for his brilliant piano concertos and orchestral suite The Comedians, he wrote many works for young musicians. His symphonies are far more serious: Symphony No. 1, completed in 1932, celebrates the fifteenth anniversary of the October Revolution. Symphony No. 2 dates from 1934 and is less ambitious in scope. Symphony No. 3 was completed in 1933 (no explanation is provided about why this is called the third when actually it appears to be the second). This is scored for chorus and orchestra and is known as "Requiem for Lenin." This is its first recording. Symphony No. 4 followed more than two decades later, premiered in 1956 and is considered to be the finest of the four. In it he uses music composed for his opera The Family of Taras, and throughout the four movements of the symphony Kabalevsky presents the trials and courage death of the heroic young girl Nastia. Japanese conductor Eiji Oue, best known for his fine work with the Minnesota Orchestra from 1995-2002, makes a strong case for all of this music leading the orchestra of which he has been music director since 1998. Superb sonics from cpo, and extensive documentation. It's a bit unfortunate several shorter works by Kabalevsky weren't included in this set; there is room for them.
If Kabalevsky's symphonies are considerably less memorable than those of Prokofiev and Shostakovich, they are pure gold compared with music of Azerbaijan Kara Karayev (1918-1982) who was a student of Shostakovich. Many years ago there was an LP of extended excerpts from his ballet The Seven Beauties which I recall was a colorful score filled with lively tunes; unfortunately there does not seem to be a recording of it currently available. Symphony No. 3, scored for chamber orchestra plus solo piano and harpsichord, dates from 1964 and was one of the first Soviet works using serialism. In it, Karayev has expressed his "reflections on the problems faced by humanity, and attempted to deepen and expose the inner world of a contemporary human being." I'm not really sure what that means. There are many repetitious rhythmic patterns but thematically this symphony goes nowhere. The 1947 symphonic poem Leyla and Mejnun, based on an Arabic legend of doomed lovers, received the coveted Stalin prize the following year. The disk ends with a brief (18:52) suite of eight "symphonic engravings" reflecting the life of Don Quixote. The performances are excellent, and the recordings, made in Moscow in March this year, are fine sonically.
Hermann Bischoff (1868-1936) is a virtually unknown composer and it's difficult to find information about him. Surprisingly, he is not listed in Grove's Dictionary—and you won't learn much about him from the flowery obtuse prose authored by Eckhardt von den Hoogen which perhaps became more confusing in this translation from German. Bischoff apparently composed nothing for the last two decades of his life, although he was financially sound and living a rather idyllic life. Curing his creative period, Bischoff was very much influenced by Richard Strauss, who was four years his senior, and the latter's rich orchestration is always present in Bischoff's music—although the comparison stops there. cpo already has recorded his first symphony, and now we have Symphony No. 2 in D minor, premiered about 1910. One can enjoy the rich orchestration, and the brief second movement, a delightful scherzo, could have been written by Mendelssohn. But there is nothing else memorable here, which also could be said of Introduction and Rondo. These have separate bands not listed on the CD; the Introduction is but 3:17, and the Rondo, which does not sound very much like a rondo, is a seemingly interminable 12:47. Performances are excellent, as is audio, but perhaps there is a reason for Bischoff's obscurity.
Bernard Haitink has a long association with symphonies of Shostakovich. A quarter-century ago he recorded all 15, eight with the Royal Concertgebouw (5, 6, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14), the remainder with the London Philharmonic, including No. 10, which is heard on this new London Philharmonic Orchestra disk in a performance recorded in concert in London's Royal Albert Hall August 23, 1986. Timings are almost identical to those of his 1977 Kingsway Hall LPO Decca recording and the audience roars its approval. Best of all is Haitink's live performance from a 1985 concert with the Concertgebouw available in the important 14-CD set of the conductor's live radio recordings (REVIEW). It's unfortunate Haitink's recent live recording of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 4 with the Chicago Symphony recorded in that city's Orchestra Hall and issued on orchestra's own label doesn't have richness and sonority provided by the ambience of Royal Albert Hall or the richness of the Concertgebouw.
R.E.B. (December 2008)