La Scena Musicale

Friday, 9 January 2009

Kabalevsky: The Symphonies

NDR Chor; The Choir of Hungarian Radio; NDR Philharmonie / Eiji Oue
Cpo 999 833-2 (2CD 105 min 38 s)
**** $$$$

This set is especially welcome at a time when previous recordings of the four symphonies of Dmitri Kabalevsky (1904-1987) are absent from the catalogue. Kabalevsky was by no means a great composer but these performances demonstrate his ample gifts for lyrical melody and clever, transparent orchestration. Kabalevsky’s music has features which seem to echo the musical language of Shostakovich and Prokofiev but without any pretense toward their towering intellects. In a nutshell, Kab was a convinced Communist and a strong candidate for the title of ‘Mr Socialist Realism’. According to Fred Prieberg, “[Kabalevsky] was the only significant composer of the Soviet Union who never, not even in 1948, had to endure an official rebuke.” Suspicion that he was on the wrong side of the Zhdanov-Shostakovich confrontation of that year probably diminished the popularity of his compositions, especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union. For collectors with a special interest in Soviet music, this issue will be irresistible. Eiji Oue secures excellent performances from his Hanover musicians. The Third Symphony (or, “Requiem for Lenin”) from 1934 includes a choral setting of verses by Nikolai Asseyev. Translation of the text is buried in the booklet note.

- Stephen Habington

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