Galynin: Complete Works for Strings

Scherzo*.**. Aria*,**. Suite**. String Quartet No 1*,***,****. String Quartet No 2*,***,*****

*Anastasia Latysheva (vn). **Academy of Russian Music / Ivan Nikiforchin. ***Arina Minaeva (violin), Anna Scherbakova (cello). ****Anastasia Bencic (viola). *****Kseniia Kharitonova (viola)

Toccata Classics TOCC0514 (65 minutes)

Sutermeister: Orchestral Works, Volume 1

Romeo & Juliet, symphonic suite; Die Alpen*; Aubade pour Morges; Divertimento No 2

*Bruno Cathomas (spkr). Royal Philharmonic Orchestra / Rainer Held

Toccata Classics TOCC0420 (87 minutes)

Just as the Covid-19 pandemic has done immeasurable damage to concert schedules and performers’ livelihoods around the globe in the past 18 months, so it has caused havoc in the record industry as well. Large numbers of recording sessions have been cancelled or postponed, disrupting the throughput of new album releases. With attention often distracted elsewhere, even those discs that did make it onto the market in the early stages of the pandemic (or even just before) were often overlooked. Two such that I have only now caught up with – some 18 months after the event – come from one of the UK’s most enterprising of labels (Toccata Classics): a disc of the complete music for strings by one of Shostakovich’s, and Myaskovsky’s, most gifted pupils, Herman (or German, depending on how one likes one’s transliteration from Russian) Galynin, and the Swiss composer, Heinrich Sutermeister.

Galynin’s back story, laid out in heart-rending detail in composer and professor Yuri Abdokov’s illuminating booklet note, is too complicated to relate here. Suffice to say he was born in 1922, orphaned aged seven and, after some years homeless on the streets, emerged as a composer in his late teens; dogged by ill-health, he died aged just 44 in 1966. There is an unmistakeable stylistic imprint of Shostakovich in particular on the works here, but yet Galynin’s music does not sound as close to his teacher as, for example, Mieczysław Weinberg’s does. That is apparent in the opening pair of works on Toccata’s disc, the firecracker Scherzo for violin and string orchestra (1966; his final work) which he may have intended to form a pair with the second track, the expressively subtle Aria composed seven years before (Galynin had spent much of the intervening period hospitalised). Whereas the Scherzo certainly possesses a Shostakovichian drive, the Aria‘s expressive world lies elsewhere. While the two pieces make an effective diptych – and one which works equally well in either order – each stands up well on its own. The Scherzo would make a vibrant if (given the soloist) unusual concert opener, or encore, with its toccata-like momentum, broken briefly by a dream-like central section; the slightly more expansive Aria might be trickier to programme on its own.

Scherzo for violin and string orchestra

Anastasia Latysheva makes a fine case for both pieces in gripping accounts accompanied by Ivan Nikiforchin’s Academy of Russian Music (which he founded in 2016). Their ensemble and intonation are spot-on, and they communicate a tangible belief in the quality of these works and what is arguably Galynin’s masterpiece, the Suite for string orchestra of 1949. Cast in four movements, a sequence of Adagio-Scherzo-Intermezzo-Finale, the Suite shows that Galynin was equally adept at larger forms. The Suite possesses a degree of thematic integration that make the work as much a chamber symphony as better-known works that deserve the title less well, and its emotional progression, centred on the Intermezzo, reaches a satisfying conclusion in the Finale.

The Academy’s section leaders (including Latysheva) form the ensemble that perform Galynin’s two string quartets. The First (1947) is the more driven of the two, of similar dimensions to the Suite, and of a more harmonically advanced character. Although Galynin’s music at times bears the influence of Myaskovsky and, more often, Shostakovich (listen, for example to Galynin’s First Piano Concerto, which picked up from where Shostakovich’s First left off thirteen years before), the First inhabits rather something of Bartok’s earlier .quartets. It is apparent from this vivid account that the four players, led here by Arina Minaeva, know each other well but their style of playing, especially in the opening Andante maestoso, has more of an orchestral mien than a chamber one. Not so in No 2 (1956), an outwardly slighter, lighter inspiration, led rather by Latysheva, his final chamber work, composed in hospital and indeed premiered there. Beneath its surface, however, one senses rather graver expressive pulse well caught by violist Kseniia Kharitonova and cellist Anna Scherbakova.

Toccata Classics’ remit is to record the unrecorded (or at least the otherwise unavailable), searching out the music the larger labels largely eschew, in recordings of comparable quality. Their discovery and advocacy of composers such as Steve Elcock, Arnold Rosner, Donald Tovey, the string quartets of David Matthews, Alkan’s organ music and countless other projects have left the musical public in their debt (did they but know it), and the label’s first release of orchestral music by Sutermeister (1910-95) is another such. The four works contained are, perhaps, more of a mixed bag than on the Galynin disc, and there is audibly a less mercurial musical mind at work. Sutermeister’s music does not sound particularly Swiss in character, and there is nothing here reminiscent of other prominent Swiss composers, such as Honegger, Schoeck or Frank Martin. The Divertimento No 2 (1959-60) and suite Aubade pour Morgues (1978-9) are both delightful, and delightfully performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Rainer Held. There is a French influence at work in both suites, lying somewhere between the Impressionism of Roussel (rather than Debussy) and Les Six. The gentle, ethereal fourth movement of Aubade, Clair de lune sur le lac, with its quietly shimmering texture, illustrates this very neatly, as does the exuberant Prestissimo finale of the Divertimento. The result is music which is sonically appealing (Sutermeister was a fine orchestrator) without any courting of the banal, nor yet attempt at gravity.

Clair de lune sur le lac , from Aubade pour morgues

The latter trait might seem a damaging omission in the ‘symphonic suite’ Romeo and Juliet (1940), especially if compared with Berlioz’s, Prokofiev’s, and Tchaikovsky’s treatment of the drama. In truth, however, Sutermeister’s suite is an extract from his opera of the same name (1937-9), made at the request of Karl Böhm, no less, who conducted the premiere, and concentrates rather on the trappings of where some of the action takes place – primarily at the Capulets’ Ball – than on the drama itself. The music is undeniably pleasant but confounds one’s expectations. The fourth work included (placed second on the disc) is the most curious, a fantasy on Swiss folksongs for orchestra with obbligato speaker, Die Alpen (1946-8). The nationalistic tone of the text, rendered in German here, makes it an awkward listen even in Sutermeister’s homeland; on disc, to an international audience, the spoken element does not really work, seeming an obstacle to the music itself. Nonetheless, it is very nicely rendered here, in beautifully engineered sound by the late Richard Scott, who died of cancer last year.

The sound files are reproduced here by kind permission of Toccata Classics.