JANIS IVANOVS (1906-1983): Symphonies Nos. 17 and 18 (World Premiere Recordings) . Latvian National Symphony Orchestra; Guntis Kuzma.
Catalogue Number: 01Y001
Description: Given Ivanovs' status as arguably the greatest and certainly the most prolific Latvian symphonist of his generation, recordings of his powerful, cogently argued, tonal symphonic output have been frustratingly sporadic. Hopefully this ongoing series from Skani will redress this serious omission. The 17th and 18th Symphonies date from 1976 and 1977 respectively. Ivanovs' style was remarkably consistent across his symphonic output, as was the quality of the works. Most of his symphonies are in the traditional four-movement layout with broadly sonata-form outer movements, a scherzo and a slow movement, have a duration around half an hour, and follow some version of the "tragedy to triumph" Romantic arc. Symphony No.17 is particularly Romantic in utterance, and has all the qualities that suggest that it could become one of the composer’s most popular works. The first movement begins and ends with the same material, tranquil and warmly glowing, which gradually rises in intensity to make way for the stormily energetic, heroically striving central part of the movement, leading to a kind of combative development section before reverting to the mood of the opening. The short scherzo is brisk and energetic, revelling in its vigour. The emotional heart of the symphony is the glorious, autumnal slow movement, gorgeously limned in rich textures, colours, and sumptuous harmony. Regret, resolution, and resignation weave through its broad, luminous landscape. The finale is resolute and optimistic, surging toward a glowing coda which brings the symphony full cycle, back to the opening material of the first movement. 1977 was the 60th anniversary of the Soviet revolution, but the nature of Ivanovs' 18th symphony, and some comments that he made around the time of its premiere suggests that WWII, or the "Great Patriotic War" may have been uppermost in Ivanovs' mind, as it was in his 1945 war symphony, the 5th, which fell afoul of the Zhdanov anti-formalist doctrine. The first movement is brooding and solemn, with turbulent episodes and intermittent flashes of (hollow? Or is this projecting in the light of history?) triumph. The following movement is a fast, energetic scherzo, heroic and determined, but with a rather doleful central section. The slow movement, Andante tenebroso, is sombre and elegiac, a traversal of a desolate former battlefield, or an agonized lament for those who died in the conflict. Over a pulsating slow march rhythm, an angular, sorrowful theme takes root, obsessively repeated like an inconsolable cry, and then the darkness gathers again. Before the end, though, a strong, sad theme emerges, bringing the movement to a resigned conclusion. With the finale the symphony finally achieves something like the Soviet-approved triumphant grandiosity that has so far eluded it, though even here the repetition of bombastic militaristic fanfares and heroic themes seems to ring a little hollow. However ambiguous its message, though - and we will never know for sure - this ruggedly powerful symphonic statement is, in musical terms, an unquestionable triumph. Latvian National Symphony Orchestra; Guntis Kuzma.