Here are two symphonies highly contrasting in musical language, yet stamped with the same gentle probing spirit that was always Miaskovsky's hallmark. The Fifth (of 1918) he once dubbed his ''Quiet'' Symphony, and it is indeed predominantly restful and spacious; yet there is also a troubled chromatic fugato in the first movement (the fugato in Shostakovich's Fourth is its rebellious cousin), and the Borodin-in-heavy-boots finale has as many shadows as bright spots. By contrast the Ninth (of 1927) is anxious and unsure of its footing, continually looking inward to its own subconscious. It conveys, to me at least, a sense of being profoundly hurt and yet alive; it constantly eludes one's emotional grasp at the same time as fascinating the ear by its Slavonic Twilight styleóRachmaninov as reheard by Bax, perhaps; it is also one of Miaskovsky's most highly wrought compositions, especially in its sonata-form scherzo.
The Ninth is new to the catalogue and is admirably served here by the BBC Philharmonic and that stalwart Russophile Sir Edward Downes. There is admittedly a rather crucially placed misread brass chord at the end of the scherzo (track 5 at 6'57''), but otherwise the preparation and execution of this far from straightforward score are scrupulous. Devoted Miaskovsky collectors will doubtless already own the Olympia CD of the Fifth, coupled with No. 11. In this work the British orchestra is marginally more refined, marginally less urgent and passionate, and where the Russian recording is a little coarse, the British one is a little recessed and muddy (the Ninth, recorded in a different location, sounds better). Overall this is a distinguished addition to Marco Polo's invaluable crusades on behalf of deserving, lesser-known corners of the orchestral repertoire.
Gramophone, July 1994