So far as I can tell this 1959 recording is identical to the Melodiya LPs which have been so treasured over the years by Miaskovsky enthusiasts and so much used or referred to in preaching to the unconverted. It is not a flawless performance, and the sound is inevitably on the thinnish side. But then neither rival version scores much higher on these counts, and neither has anything approaching the fire, the expressive ebb and flow, or the sheer dramatic sweep of Kondrashin.
When it first appeared in the early 1920s Miaskovsky's Sixth was hailed as the first Soviet symphony—not the first composed on Soviet soil, but the first to embody the cataclysmic experiences, the conflicts and aspirations of Revolution. Of course that begs all sorts of questions. For instance, does the finale's turn from heroic optimism to funereal tragedy represent solidarity with past martyrdom or present betrayal of ideals? And what, apart from the emblematic tunes in that finale, distinguishes the essential message of this music from, say, Rachmaninov's Second or Gliere's Third, to mention two comparable pre-revolutionary Russian symphonies?
Not that it is really necessary to agonize over such things. This is a musically self-sufficient symphonic drama of aspiration, yearning, frustration and wistfulness, all held in a tense state of becoming by a squared-off but masterly Wagnerian chromaticism and lit up from time to time by moments of immensely touching poetic inwardness.
If you are sufficiently curious to give Miaskovsky a try and are unsure where to start with the 27 symphonies, do go for this one in this recording. And if you are already an aficionado, the task that remains is to persuade the powers-that-be to perform this stirring work in surroundings befitting it—which I suggest should be nothing less than a Royal Albert Hall Prom.
Gramophone, October 1994