Symphony No. 1 is a student piece dating from 1908. But Miaskovsky was a mature student in both senses, having previously graduated from Military Academy and served as an engineer in Moscow at the same time as pursuing his musical studies. His style may not yet have developed the personal wistful touches which distinguish his finest work, but his harmonic and formal technique was already established, along with such characteristic moods as the sense of being unwillingly dragged forward, as when the first movement's portentous introduction gives way to the activity of the main themes. At 42 minutes the three movements are surely a little over-long, but Miaskovsky's craftsmanship is always solid and the performance is better than par for recordings of his symphonies.
The Nineteenth Symphony dates from 1939. Classical, positive and tuneful, it is a very different proposition from No. 1, fulfilling as it does virtually all the criteria for Socialist Realist symphonism. It is also thoroughly utilitarian, for this is the first Soviet symphony for 'big band'. This might seem an unfortunate choice for duplication in the CD catalogue. But in fact the new recording is welcome since it returns to Miaskovsky's original scoring—the rival Olympia version adds all sorts of percussion and harp fillings, which do little to enhance the overall impression and which I suspect do not originate with the composer. The Russian State Brass Orchestra is as well drilled as one would expect, and if some of the tempo variations in the third movement seem excessive, Nikolai Sergeyev certainly coaxes a warm and attractive performance from his players. Recording quality and balance are fine, though the four second gap between the two works is surely inadequate.
Gramophone, March 1994