Szeged Philharmonic Orchestra, Ervin Acel
Kabalevsky: Symphony #1 & #2
Vol.3 of Olympia's Kabalevsky series. Olympia is out of print.
Kabalevsky seems destined to be remembered for his user-friendly piano music and listenerfriendly concertos. But he did also compose four symphonies, the first three of them in one creative burst in his mid-twenties, and if it is difficult to hear them as intrinsically anything more than promising, a certain historical interest nevertheless attaches to them.
Dating from 1932 and 1934 (No. 3, the Lenin Requiem was completed before No. 2) the first two symphonies coincide with the beginnings of the Union of Soviet Composers and a brief window of opportunity between domination by militant proletarian factions and by party diktat. Not that long out of the conservatoire, Kabalevsky was perhaps not fully equipped to take advantage of the situation, though his inclinations had previously been towards the modernist rather than the proletarian end of the musico-political spectrum.
In style, structure and general gravitas both symphonies owe a massive debt to his teacher Miaskovsky, and neither work is free from a certain amount of note-spinning. But Kabalevsky is his own man to the extent of deploying open tonal schemes—the First Symphony is "in C sharp minor" but concludes in A major; the Second moves from C minor to E flat major. And every once in a while the academic frame quivers under the pressure of an overriding communicative urge—as when a fateful march with thudding bass drum overshadows the First Symphony's first movement coda (from 8'30"). Had the times been more propitious perhaps Kabalevsky would have been able to forge more wholly personal statements along such lines. As it was he abandoned symphonic composition until 1956, when his Fourth Symphony could have been a declaration of new possibilities (though in the event it wasn't).
Some may know the Second Symphony from a New Philharmonia recording on Unicorn (4/78— nla); the new Hungarian performance, recorded in March this year, is no less sympathetic and only occasionally less polished, and the recording is clear enough. It is, however, rather less urgent in feel—the outer movements are, after all, marked quasi presto and prestissimo scherzando. But for the restoration of this work, and especially for the addition of the First Symphony, Olympia deserve our gratitude.
-- Gramophone [10/1992]