Roughly contemporary with Shostakovich's Thirteenth Symphony and Britten's War Requiem, Kabalevsky's Requiem is likewise a memorial to the victims of the Second World War Not surprisingly, it is not remotely comparable to those works in terms of inventiveness, profundity or individuality. But neither is it entirely lowest-common-denominator, poster-art music - it is certainly a cut or two above Sviridov's Oratorio Pathetique, for instance - and even if it was, it would still be of considerable historical interest.
The poem, by Robert Rozhdestvensky (no relation to Gennadi), is execrable, and in some of the 12 movements the musical setting barely rises above its level of sub-Mayakovskian piety. Nor are serried ranks of brainwashed, immaculately groomed Soviet children pledging themselves "in the name of the Motherland" exactly my idea of a fitting tribute to the dead. But try the beginning of Part Two, "Black Stone", and you will find a composer capable of thinking polyphonically and of sustaining dramatic tension. You will also find singing and playing of no little dedication and atmospheric intensity - which is typical of the entire performance in fact. Recording quality is more than acceptable, and certainly finer than might be expected for its date and provenance. Olympia supply full texts in Cyrillic Russian and English; a pity they could not have contrived more than three seconds' gap between Parts One and Two, and the change of disc would surely have been better placed before Part Three, rather than after its introductory section.
Appearing a couple of years into the post-Stalin era and some 20 years after his first three symphonies, Kabalevsky's Fourth is a surprisingly tame piece. That may not be the best adjective for music of such clamorous obviousness, but the rudimentary textbook forms and the excessive dependence on the model of Prokofiev's Seventh Symphony (and, in the finale, of Lieutenant Kije) do suggest a kind of creative insecurity. But at least the composer drives the performance along and it takes all the Leningrad Philharmonic's considerable virtuosity to keep up. Here the recording does betray its age, though it is easy to adapt to.
Gramophone, January 1993