Kabalevsky: Symphonies Nos 1 and 2. © 2019 Naxos Rights (Europe) Ltd

CD Spotlight

Jollity Ultimately Triumphs

Orchestral music by Dmitri Kabalevsky,

'I am pleased to see this interesting disc, as it showcases an important composer from the Soviet era.'


I can remember in my youth liking Kabalevsky's Colas Breugnon Overture and the Piano Concerto No 3 particularly, but I had not heard much else besides the Suite from The Comedians, so I was eagerly awaiting this Naxos disc.

The Malmö Symphony Orchestra is fine, and Darrel Ang's directions, assured. However, whilst I cannot say that this is bad or boring music, there was nothing that really lifted me to feel inspired, especially in the light of other Russian composers from around the same period.

The Colas Breugnon Overture, brimming with good humour, is one of Kabalevsky's best-known works and is a good introduction to his music. At times it will remind you of Prokofiev, but it doesn't contain any of the darkness or sardonic wit prevalent in much of Prokofiev's work.

The music goes at a cracking pace, and is a challenge to perform. There is plenty of great orchestral colour, revealing Kabalevsky as a fine orchestrator. It is quite bombastic in places, and at times the bass drum and lower percussion sound a little woolly - a trait I noticed in this recording overall.

Listen — Kabelevsky: Colas Breugnon Overture
(track 1, 2:38-3:38) © 2019 Naxos Rights (Europe) Ltd :

The two movement First Symphony from 1932 commemorates the fifteenth anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. The music, tonal and containing plenty of contrast, supposedly shows a transition from oppression to liberation. Kabalevsky was a Soviet composer to the core, and his music exhibits none of the internal struggles of Shostakovich or Prokofiev. The first movement starts rather gloomily, leading to a more impassioned section before subsiding into gloomy quietness again.

Listen — Kabelevsky: Andante molto sostenuto (Symphony No 1)
(track 2, 4:44-5:31) © 2019 Naxos Rights (Europe) Ltd :

The second movement starts defiantly, as if a call to arms or an awakening is occurring. After a while this gives way to a cor anglais theme, taken over by lower strings, before the opening theme and cor anglais theme are combined, back in defiant mood, and this pushes relentlessly to the conclusion.

Listen — Kabelevsky: Allegro molto agitato (Symphony No 1)
(track 3, 6:48-7:33) © 2019 Naxos Rights (Europe) Ltd :

The three movement Second Symphony (1934) is again tonal, and in C minor, but is more abstract in subject. I liked this symphony a little more than the first.

The first movement starts fairly abruptly and strongly, and this gives way to a somewhat plaintive clarinet tune which grows in power as the full orchestra is employed. This is actually quite an exciting movement as there is considerable energy. The composer writes with skill and this is certainly a Russian sounding work, drawing on earlier composers as well as Kabalevsky's contemporaries.

Listen — Kabelevsky: Allegro quasi presto (Symphony No 2)
(track 4, 3:38-4:32) © 2019 Naxos Rights (Europe) Ltd :

After a brief string introduction, a rather sad tune is introduced in the second movement, firstly in the flutes, and then other woodwind come in. The accompaniment, in the lower strings, is rather heavy and grave. This rises to a full climax, before a second subject is introduced, and then eventually the opening theme comes back, before the music concludes, somewhat wistfully. This is my favourite track on the disc.

Listen — Kabelevsky: Andante non troppo (Symphony No 2)
(track 5, 4:15-5:06) © 2019 Naxos Rights (Europe) Ltd :

The last movement starts jauntily - a suitable foil to the gravity of the previous movement. There is no sadness here, but darkness underneath at times, although the feeling of jollity is never far away and ultimately triumphs. The orchestra responds magnificently to the rather complex score. This is enjoyable music and there is naught within that would challenge most listeners.

The Pathétique Overture rounds off this disc. A relatively late work, from 1960, it is a whirling kind of tarantella, showing quite a lot of excitement and variety in its short length. It also shows that Kabalevsky was a fine composer whose music appeals to a wide audience, but alas, he is not performed so often these days.

I am pleased to see this interesting disc, as it showcases an important composer from the Soviet era. Like many other composers of the period, his music has been overshadowed, over the last thirty or forty years, particularly by the music of Prokofiev and Shostakovich, and perhaps even Schnittke, although Kabalevsky is one of those composers who writes music that can certainly entertain and be enjoyed.

Copyright © 9 July 2019 Geoff Pearce,
Sydney, Australia




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