NOSYREV:  The Song of Triumphant Love (Ballet)
Voronezh State Symphony Orch/Vladimir Verbitsky, cond.
OLYMPIA  OCD 684 (F) (DDD) TT:  79:02

ESHPAI:  "A Circle" -- Apocalypse (Ballet in Two Acts)
All-Union TV & Radio Symphony Orch/Er
BUY NOW FROM AMAZONmin Khachaturian, cond.
ALBANY TROY 425 (F) (DDD) TT:  70:43

Here are premiere recordings of two 20th Century ballets each written by leading Russian composers. Mikhail Nosyrev attempts to return to the great days of Russian ballet, while Andrei Eshpai attempts to combine the past with the present.

Nikhail Nosyrev (1924-1981) was of Cossack descent. He studied at the Leningrad Conservatory, becoming a member of their orchestra. In 1943 in the besieged city of Leningrad he was arrested and sentenced, along with his mother and stepfather, to death by firing squad. This was commuted to ten years in a Siberian prison after which he settled in Voronezh, his home for the remainder of his life. He conducted professionally in both concert and opera becoming a member of the Soviet Composer's Union as a result of support from Shostakovich who apparently was impressed by the younger composer's music. His catalog of about 200 works includes four symphonies, three concertos, four string quartets, chamber music and three ballets including the one recorded here.

Song of Triumphant Love (1968-1969) had its premiere in Voronezh early in 1971 and has been performed annually since. Perhaps one reason for this is that it is based on a story by Ivan Turgenyev, whose patriotic writing appeals to the Russians. The ballet takes place in Italy during the eighteenth century. Valeria, a beautiful young girl, is courted by both Fabio and Muzio; she finally marries Fabio. In Act II, five years later, Muzio returns, still in love withValeria. They meet "in a dream, during which the song of triumphant love is heard again."  He and Valeria are surprised by Fabio, who stabs Muzio. In the epilogue a magic spell brings Muzio back to life. He and his servant leave, never to return as Valeria looks at him longingly. A wordless female voice (here powerfully sung by Olga Kondina) presents the main theme of the work, heard several times throughout the ballet. The solo harp also figures prominently as does solo violin, and there are leitmotifs for the principal characters, a particularly Romantic one for Muzio. There is a synopsis by track (there are 20) of what is going on, which is helpful. CD notes state this ballet "can easily take its place with the Russian ballet tradition....the brilliant orchestration is especially striking.....the work hovers in its own unique way between Rachmaninoff and Scriabin."  An overstatement, to be sure. Aside from Muzio's theme, this is prosaic music with rather elementary scoring—everything dramatic, serious or bitter is represented by a loud gong.  

The performance is excellent; Voronezh (population about a half-million) can be proud of its State Symphony Orchestra, which has been around for 75 years, and has been conducted by Svetlanov, Kondrashin, J”rvi and Temirkanov. They do what can be done for Nosyrev's score, and sonic quality is excellent.  There is maximum playing time on this CD (79:02); notes say the composer made some "small excisions" that "have no effect on the musical and dramatic substance of the work." I imagine it doesn't make much of a difference.

 Andre Eshpai, born in 1925  in the ancient city of Kozmodemynsk on the Volga River, was surrounded by music in his youth. In 1948 Nicolai Miaskovsky was his teacher in composition at the Moscow Conservatory, where the young composer wrote his first works as well as piano study with Vladimir Sofronitsky. Under the guidance of Aram Khachaturian he wrote concertos for violin and piano and in 1959 his Gennady Rozhdestvensky conducted the premiere of his Symphony No. 1. CD notes say Shostakovich was in the audience and thought highly of the work. Eshpai studied with Zoltán Kodály who also offered him encouragement.  During the late '60s and early '70s Eshpai experimented with lighter music composing an opera and a musical. Frequently his music reflects the influence of jazz and pop music. Now in his mid-seventies, Eshpai is recognized as one of Russia's leading composers.CD notes say, "sincerity is his main method of artistic expression," whatever that means.

The ballet "A Circle" is divided into two acts consisting of twelve episodes "of vague boundaries." The first act begins in the perfect Earth where the kingdom of harmony and beauty is disrupted by forces of destruction. In Act II, against the background of the global desert, the main characters—He and She—meet. The male figure protects his mate but is killed. Overcoming her despair, She is reborn to life and, "so overwhelming is her desire to have life on the planet that a miracle happens: touching the tombstones brings the dead back to life." Joy and peace return, but She is gone; she gave her life to save them all. A requiem for her becomes a hymn to peace, ending the ballet.

CD notes by Victor Ledin and Alla Bogdanova are not always clear; no date of composition is given for "A Circle," and it is suggested that this is really a symphony rather than a ballet. The music is a hodge-podge, beginning serenely, continuing with a direct steal from Ravel's La Valse, and along the way we have jazz and pop music interludes—and much dissonance. The music doubtless would be effective when heard as accompaniment to a stage presentation.  There are only 4 tracks to the CD, two for each act.  It is strange the producers didn't track each of the episodes no matter how vague the separation between them.  The Russian studio orchestra plays very well indeed, with fine recorded sound.

Musical merits of both ballets are questionable—some might find these intriguing—but it is admirable to have them available.

R.E.B. (Nov. 2000)