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Liapounov Symphony No 2
Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France/Evgueni Svetlanov
naive V 4974 [62 mins]

A magnificent recording from a live concert on 27/11/1998, the notes to this elegant release by Naive tell two salutary stories which deserve to be better known. Michel Cresta tells us how this prolific composer , "epigone of Balakirev", was "crushed by the vicissitudes of his time, then forgotten by posterity". Evgueni Svetlanov, in a bitter autobiographical note, describes how he was "chased out of Russia in the era of democracy"; dismissed from his fruitful directorship of the Russian State Orchestra by the Minister of Culture without reasons disclosed, after forty-five years and nearly two thousand recordings. Russia's loss was Europe's gain and Svetlanov relished his continuing work abroad, amongst which this French premiere of a neglected masterwork is an event to be treasured.

Serge Liapounov (1859-1924), best known as a virtuoso pianist, had fled the new regime in the early twenties and opened a music school for emigré Russians before dying of a heart attck just before giving a piano recital in Paris. This huge symphony of 1917 "burgeoned during the Bolshevik upheavals" and was not performed until premiered by Svetlanov with the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra in 1951.

It has a sombtre Largo, the opening recalling Liszt's Faust Symphony, and a bright, very Russian Allegro risoluto, rich and complex, "an ambiguous farewell to a world in the process of collapse". The virtuosic scherzo preceds an Adagio with several folk tunes and the finale begins with a march theme "worthy of Tchaikowsky", but disintegrates and "peters out - - to an implacable, heartrending coda".

Far too good to have virtually disappeared, this symphony certainly deserves a place in the Russian canon, alongside those of Tchaikowsky and Borodin, and it is given an irresistible performance of brio and intensity by the French orchestra under its original creator.

An excellent recording of a work which would be enjoyed by British concert audiences if only its composer's name was not all too likely to empty the hall, such is the conservatism of our concert life.

© Peter Grahame Woolf