With this and the recently announced Eighth Symphony (also from Marco Polo) we will have no fewer than ten of Miaskovsky's 27 symphonies on CD; and the Twelfth is all the more welcome because it has never previously, to my knowledge, been available in any format. That might be thought somewhat surprising, since this is the one known as the ''Collective Farm'' Symphony, and it can claim a certain historical significance. Not that there is anything of the 'boy-meets-tractor' scenario in it; indeed, the title and the programme (Russian village life before, during and after collectivization) can surely be put down to the search for approval in which so many Soviet artists were engaged at the time. But it does represent a stage in the history of Soviet music when the survival of the symphony as a genre was under real threat.
In 1932 proletarian factions were at the height of their dominance in the arts (they were soon to get their come-uppance from the Party machine), and in these circumstances to get any kind of symphony performed was an achievement. The idiom of the Twelfth Symphony is something of a compromise—the retreat from mild adventurousness can be traced through the Tenth and Eleventh Symphonies (available on Marco Polo/Select and Olympia/Complete Record Co respectively)—but it was still too elitist for the denizens of official taste, as the 1935 conference on Soviet Symphonism made plain. Indeed, the mixture of four-square folksiness and Hindemithian elaboration makes a curiously half-hearted impression nowadays. All the same the nerve required to produce such music should not be underestimated.
It may be doubted whether the Bratislava performance gives an entirely fair impression of the work—the middle movement, for instance, feels nothing like presto agitato, and solo contributions are of variable quality. Still, it is much better than routine, and I'm not sure if any performance could bring the more dutiful parts of the finale off the page. In the end the interest of the piece remains historical—how to produce a symphony in a profoundly inimical intellectual climate. Five years later Shostakovich's Fifth would make the breakthrough Miaskovsky never achieved—to Realism on the composer's own terms.
Silence is a 27˝-minute symphonic poem of remarkably sustained lugubriousness. As throughout his career, Miaskovsky's abiding weakness is the inability to create surprise, and in the long run the structure is mainly a question of stirring the same chromatic cauldron in different directions. But the effect is not without a certain compulsive strangeness and there is a good measure of atmosphere in the performance. Like the symphony it is rather distantly recorded.
Dating from his student years (1909) this is the earliest Miaskovsky we have on CD (apart from the far less interesting First Piano Sonata). As such it is a valuable addition. But until the fine Sixth Symphony appears the non-specialist collector will probably be left wondering what all the fuss is about (surely Soviet objections to releasing tapes of the Kondrashin recording no longer apply?).
Gramophone, October 1991