Volume 6 in Olympia's valuable "Mravinsky Legacy" harnesses together two facets of the great man's art which are probably less than fully appreciated in the West. First there is the immaculate discipline of his classical repertoire (not quite immaculate here in point of fact, and flute intonation in the first movement introduction is especially woeful), but the playing conveys a unity of purpose which, without drawing undue attention to itself, makes a lot of other orchestras seem fuzzy at the edges.
Then there is his championing of new Soviet music, and it is the Salmanov symphony which is surely the main point of this release. Salmanov's dates are 1912-78 and Murray McLachlan's sleeve-note tells us that he is best known for a cycle of six string quartets. The Fourth Symphony was composed in 1972 and is in three movements lasting 31˝ minutes. The opening theme is sinuous and pensive, after the manner of Bartok's Music for strings, percussion and celesta, and the first movement counterpoints increasingly urgent calls to action with increasingly gloomy, Sibelovichian responses. The balance is held by a hopeful diatonic theme which to British ears may suggest Drink to me only with thine eyes. In fact this last theme with its poignant harmonies becomes more and more impressive as it appears throughout the work in different contexts, and Salmanov plays effectively on the listener's desire to rehear it.
The first movement is long, but it has a lot of emotional ground to cover and some deep soundings to take. The central scherzo breaks the spell with brass writing of circus/cabaret banality; aficionados of Soviet music will not be entirely surprised to find ironic dissonances creeping in, until we sense with discomfort that it is our world which is the circus—the music merely holds up the mirror. The finale starts shrouded in vapours and gradually works back to the tone and the images of the first movement.
If this description suggests Shostakovich, that is hardly surprising, and there are indeed many similarities of style and tone. The voice may not ultimately have the total assurance of a Shostakovich, but Salmanov's Fourth Symphony remains a serious, impressive work, neither pandering to officialdom nor indulging in gratuitous rebellion. In short, it is well worth getting to know.
The recording is coarse-grained and serves up all the solo instruments in your lap; the Beethoven is more naturally balanced but has an exceptionally tuberculose audience background. But that cannot disguise the fact that both performances are supremely dedicated and meticulously thought out.
David J. Fanning
(From: Gramophone, March 1989)