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Monday, June 20, 2016

Avram Il'yich Khachaturian, Symphony No.2, "The Bell," Yablonsky, Russian Philharmonic Orchestra

The catastrophic upheavals that marked Germany's invasion of Russia during World War II led to some of the most memorable symphonies of that era. There is Prokofiev's turbulent Symphony No. 5, Shostakovitch's markedly dramatic Symphony No. 7, and not as well known, Khachaturian's Symphony No. 2 "The Bell". The Russian Philharmonic Orchestra under Dmitry Yablonsky gives us a stirring reading of that symphony in a recent recording (Naxos 8.570436) and I have been listening to with pleasure.

Khachaturian (1903-1978) describes the symphony as a "requiem of wrath, a requiem of protest against war and violence" (liners). The nickname of the symphony derives from its tubular bell part that enters the matrix several times during the work. It is, given the subject matter, very expressive and unsettled music, with much dramatic impact, certainly worthy of taking its place with the Shostakovitch and Prokofiev symphonies of the period, though with perhaps not quite the thematic brilliance of the others. Nonetheless it is a completely satisfying work, an extroverted dirge that cries out in protest with the full resources of the modern orchestra.

A bonus on this disk are several excerpts from Khachaturian's "Lermontov Suite" (1959), which he initially wrote as incidental music for Boris Lavrenyov's play about the playwright-poet in 1954.  It is perhaps not quite at the level of the symphony, but nonetheless gives us some good moments and does not detract from the overall effect and high level of performance on the program as a whole.

Russian modern aficionados will doubtless want to savor this fine recording of a somewhat neglected symphony. It is very worthwhile. Kudos to Yablonsky and the Russian Philharmonic.

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