Composers: Kabalevsky
Compositions: Symphonies Nos 1 and 2
Performers: Malmö SO/Darrell Ang
Catalogue Number: NAXOS 8573859

Dmitry Kabalevsky (1904-1987) is remembered as the archetypal Soviet composer. He toed the official line, writing music specifically for young people, and when his name initially came up on Stalin’s hit list he used his Communist Party connections to substitute that of his inoffensive teacher Myaskovsky. His music invariably shows a light touch, a gift for memorable themes, and rhythmic vitality. One such piece, which became popular in the West, is the overture to Colas Breugnon, his opera of 1938. With its busy strings and syncopated rhythms, it resembles a 20th-century update of Glinka’s Ruslan and Ludmila. The later Pathétique Overture of 1960 is tougher: succinct but effective.

In symphonic form, a Soviet composer had more leeway to make a personal statement (as we know from Shostakovich). Kabalevsky wrote four symphonies: his impressive 50-minute Fourth Symphony demands revival. Here we have his First Symphony (1932), a strong, fully mature work with considerable dramatic punch. Symphony No 2 (1934) is even more assured. The clear influence of Tchaikovsky has become better integrated, and Kabalevsky’s textural clarity (always a feature of his orchestration) is outstanding.

While his music does not display the distinctive personal profile of Prokofiev, it remains taut, colourful, melodic and often exciting. In this recording, Darrell Ang keeps the vigorous Malmö orchestra on its toes, and Naxos’ sound is excellent.