Classical CD Reviews

New classical music releases reviewed in detail by Gavin Dixon

Thursday, 27 February 2020

Tishchenko Harp Concerto Marinutsa Sugako

Boris Tishchenko (1939–2010) To My Brother, op. 98. Testament, op. 96. Harp Concerto, op. 69
Ionella Marinutsa (hp)
Anara Khassenova (sop)
Artem Naumenko (fl)
Anna Homenya (org)
International Parisian Symphony Orchestra
Mikhail Sugako, cond

NAXOS 8.579048 (53:25)

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Boris Tishchenko (1939–2010) is routinely described as the direct successor to Shostakovich, including on the blurb for this release. So are many other Russian composers of his generation, especially when, like Tishchenko, they specialized in symphonies and concertos. Tishchenko studied with Shostakovich, and also with Ustvolskaya, and inherited much from both, though in the case of Ustvolskaya, only from her “official” side. But Tishchenko’s music is rarely as anguished as theirs. While conservative in style—and fully meeting Socialist Realist requirements—there is a questing, exploratory aspect to his music, often experimenting with unusual tone colors and exploring surprising instrumental combinations.
Those are the strongest qualities of the three works presented here. The disc is titled Complete Works for Harp, which seems arbitrary, given that the program is made up of a substantial concerto with two short songs as filler, both with harp in the accompanying ensemble. But the program does make sense, as the soprano from the songs, Anara Khassenova, returns in the concerto to provide a vocalize obbligato in the fourth of its five movements.
The two songs were composed in 1986, the first in memory of the composers’ brother, Mikhail. Confusingly, the two works both set poems called “Testament,” the first by Lermontov, the second by the Modernist poet Nikolay Zabolotsky. In the first, soprano and flute are equal partners, exchanging lyrical phrases over the harp’s sometimes petulant accompaniment. Testament replaces the flute with an organ, which balances the percussive interjections of the harp.
The concerto was composed in 1977, for the composer’s third wife, Irina Donskaya-Tishchenko. Her recording has been reissued on Northern Flowers 9963. Although the work is long—over 40 minutes—the scale of the musical expression is generally modest. Perhaps with an eye to balance between harp and ensemble, Tishchenko rarely employs the full orchestra (just a chamber ensemble in any case), instead matching the harp to solo instruments for extended duets. This often plays out as Klangfarbenmelodie, as one accompanying instrument gives way to another of similar tone. Tishchenko also takes a coloristic approach to modality, and the soloist moves between two harps with different tunings. The harp writing is fairly conventional, though more adventurous than the continual arpeggios that make up most orchestral writing for the instrument. There are occasional glissandos, but otherwise most of the solo part is made up of single-line melodies and chordal interjections.
Ionella Marinutsa is a Russian harpist, based in Paris. In fact, the conductor and all of the soloists are from former Soviet republics but now Paris-based. Marinutsa gives fine performances, suitably elegiac and reflective in the concerto’s many quiet moments, and always sustaining the melodic line. Soprano Khassenova has a rich, even tone, which balances well against the harp. The International Parisian Symphony Orchestra appears to be a pick-up group, founded as recently as December 2018 by the present conductor and here making its recording debut. The players cope well with the exposure of their minimally accompanied solos, but the ensemble playing is ordinary and lacks color. Packaging and documentation are the usual Naxos bare bones, though Richard Whitehouse’s generous liner note includes translations of the poems, but without the Russian originals.

This review appears in Fanfare magazine issue 43:5.

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