Recording of the Week Time to re-evaluate Miaskovsky
Born in 1881 and living until 1950, Miaskovsky is broadly speaking a contemporary of Prokofiev, yet unlike the latter he remained in Russia throughout his life. During this time he did his best to avoid overt confrontation with the Soviet State and is sometimes referred to as the "father of the Soviet symphony". However, late in his life (particularly after the Zhdanov Decree in 1947) this became impossible and he was singled out, along with Shostakovich, Khachaturian and Prokofiev, as one of the principal offenders in writing music of anti-Soviet and formalist tendencies.
During his lifetime he was also well known - and often performed - outside Russia. His symphonies were regularly played in Europe and America during the 1920s and 30s and in 1935 a CBS radio poll of the top contemporary composers put him in the top ten along with Prokofiev, Rachmaninov, Shostakovich, Richard Strauss, Stravinsky, Sibelius, Ravel, Manuel de Falla and Fritz Kreisler.
It is somewhat surprising then that these days he is relatively little known and rarely performed. However I’m very pleased to say that all that is about to change as Warner Classics have just released a box set containing his complete 27 symphonies. After the collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of the 1980s, Russian conductor Evgeny Svetlanov undertook the formidable project of recording the composer’s complete orchestral music with the orchestra he had led for nearly three decades - the Russian Federation Academic Symphony Orchestra (previously known as the USSR State Symphony Orchestra).
The recordings were made in the early 1990s in a partnership between Svetlanov and the UK's Olympia Records, and the first ten volumes were issued to critical acclaim. However, Olympia went out of business soon after that and collectors have been waiting for the remainder since. Last year budget label Alto bought up the rights to the remaining few and have now got up to volume 13 but it is still not yet complete and the first 10 volumes are currently unavailable.
This box set then represents a hugely important release. It is the only complete set of the symphonies available and will almost inevitably cause a major re-evaluation of Miaskovsky's work. I’ve listened to several of the symphonies over the past week and been constantly impressed by both the lush romantic language of the early symphonies and the more powerful and generally more anguished later ones.
Coming on 16 discs, there is a lot of listening here but we’ve managed to secure a fantastic price and I’m convinced your investment in time would be amply rewarded in enjoyment.