Symphonic Suite No. 1, Komsomol is the Chief of Electrification (1932)
*Symphony No. 5 in A major, Op. 77, "Pastoral" (1956)
Moscow Radio and TV Symphony Orchestra/Edvard Chivzhel
*USSR State Symphony Orchestra/Gurgen Karapetian
Olympia OCD598 [62:40/ADD]
The third issue devoted to Gavriil Popov in Olympia's Soviet Symphonies series offers two works from wide apart in his career. Bridging the stylistic gap between his First and Sixth symphonies, his Fifth is extraordinarily outré for a work finished in 1956 - not so much in its unorthodox form as in its feeling, concluding as it does with twenty minutes of glowingly ecstatic free-tempo slow music with absolutely no objective application in the Soviet world. At its best, this five-movement work, running continuously for threequarters of an hour, is rather stunning; yet long stretches are vague and gestural in a way more than hinting at the influence of its composer's alcoholism, incurred as a result of his clashes with the apparat.
Here, the composer's characteristically eclectic bag of influences - Mahler's Fifth and Ninth, The Fountains of Rome, The Rite of Spring, The Poem of Ecstasy, Daphnis et Chloé, possibly even Delius - are incautiously close to the surface, sloshing about in a golden haze of rapturous tremolando and intoxicated surges from key to key. A pellmell contrapuntal scherzo confirms the great talent lying behind all this, as does much of the "sloshing about" itself; but this euphoric rhapsody of a symphony is, in the end, lost to vodka. All the more remarkable that Popov recovered full control in his Sixth - a screaming masterpiece (and I use those words advisedly).
Despite its failure, Popov's Fifth lingers and haunts, as does the accompanying film suite, written before the onset of Socialist Realism and as full of passionate and idiosyncratic expression as the symphony. A bouquet to Olympia for a disc of remarkable, if sometimes somewhat befuddled, music. A curse on the malign idiots who ran the USSR for driving a potentially terrific composer to drink.