This Thursday’s two concerts from Ensemble 360 in Music in the Round’s May Festival this year, Russia in the Round, are especially fascinating and in particular the one at lunchtime.
It introduces a couple of composers who will be totally unfamiliar to just about all but Russian music anoraks, Marina Dranishnikova and Nikolai Roslavets.
Dranishnikova (1929 –94), the daughter of Vladimir Dranishnikov, a friend of Prokofiev and composer who made his living mainly as a conductor, appears to have studied piano and composition at Leningrad Conservatory.
If she wrote anything else other than the piece getting an outing in the Russia in the Round festival, Poéme for oboe and piano, it has proved impossible to discover. However, the work’s lyrical outpouring strongly suggests she was far from being a beginner in 1953 when she wrote it.
Described as a challenging work and lasting a little short of ten minutes, Poéme was dedicated to the principal oboe of the Leningrad Philharmonic and was apparently prompted by an ‘unhappy love’ for an oboist – the word ‘tragic’ has also surfaced!
The adjective is apt in relation to Nikolai Roslavets (1881 –1944) who must have been the most persecuted composer under the Soviet regime. Mud sticks, they say, and even now he still largely persona non grata.
His ‘crime’ was nothing more than being a cosmopolitan modernist, or futurist composer who developed a compositional technique for atonalism taking late Scriabin as his starting point.
The barrage of unfounded vitriol launched at him for his efforts by a political system that he fully supported was as astonishing as it was intense to the point that even his deliberately unmarked grave was destroyed.
Performances of his music were banned from the early 1930s until the late 1970s, even the one-movement Viola Sonata No 1 from 1926 when Roslavets’s fame was at its peak in the Soviet Union and being performed this Thursday.
It can be described as a late Romantic work, harmonically adventurous and full of a yearning beauty that is difficult to resist, and yet it had been consigned to state archives after his death until the late 1980s when, at last, access to his manuscripts was granted.
As a point of interest, Alina Ibragimova, known to recent Music in the Round audiences, recorded Roslavets’s two violin concertos in 2008 with BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Ilan Volkov!
Roughly a ten-minute work, rounding the Roslavet sonata up with Dranishnikova’s Poéme to make a joint running time of around 20 minutes means the concert’s advertised duration of 55 minutes is going to be somewhat stretched as it concludes with Rachmaninov’s Trio Élégiaque No 2.
Have you noticed how many Russian composers writing memorial/ tribute pieces do so using the piano trio as a vehicle, by the way?
This is the third heard in the festival: Rachmaninov’s memorial homage following the death of Tchaikovsky. It was modelled on the latter’s only piano trio written as a tribute to Nikolai Rubinstein, while Shostakovich dedicated his Trio No 2 to Ivan Sollertinsky evoking images of Soviet death camps in the process.
Not in the festival, Arensky’s Trio No 1 (probably his best-known opus number), penned in memory of the highly renowned cellist and composer Karl Davidov, is another significant example.