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ALEXANDER MOSOLOV - Symphony No. 5 - Harp Concerto - Taylor Ann Fleshman (Harp) - Moscow Symphony Orchestra - Arthur Arnold (Conductor) - 747313410279 - Released: December 2020 - Naxos 8.574102

Symphony No. 5 (1965)
Harp Concerto (1939)

Russian composer Alexander Mosolov (1900-1973) was a contemporary of Dmitri Shostakovich, and pretty well suffered the same, if not more severe fate, than his compatriot. His claim to fame, or infamy depending on your perspective, is a work titled The Iron Foundry from the ballet Steel, Op. 19 from 1926 (video clip below). If you thought industrial music was a recent phenomenon, you're only a 100 years late. During that time he became one of the most sought after avant-garde composers in the Soviet Union. The Soviet era Stalin regime came down hard on Mosolov for writing countercurrent music, and in 1936 he was banished from the Union of Soviet Composers and his music was blacklisted. In 1937 he was arrested and sent to a labour camp. Following this ordeal, he completely changed his way of writing, but couldn't find the stylistic juste milieu like Shostakovich had when he composed his own Fifth Symphony, and in doing so lost his individuality and unique character.

The two works on this new Naxos release are both world premiere recordings. The 1965 Symphony No. 5 was only published in 1991, and the premiere performance of the 1939 Harp Concerto took place in 2019, 80 years after its creation. A Concerto for Harp and Orchestra from a composer like Alexander Mosolov may seem odd, but one of his teachers while he was at the Moscow Conservatory was Reinhold Glière who himself wrote one of the most famous of all harp concertos. It may lack the futuristic outlook and visceral power of the Iron Foundry, but it is nonetheless a fascinating and highly evocative work. The harp itself doesn't really play the front and center starring role in this concerto, but is seamlessly woven within the orchestral fabric to great expressive effect. Harpist Taylor Ann Fleshman's dynamic and expressive touches enhance the instrument's sound from start to finish, be it melancholic or glittering. As far as the Symphony No. 5 is concerned, the central slow movement is the most captivating. It's somewhat mechanical pulse and lugubrious overtones expose facets reminiscent of the younger composer. The members of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra and conductor Arthur Arnold well capture this work's darkly resonating core. Just like Shostakovich's 5th, it ends on a deceptively optimistic note.

If you're an enthusiast of Russian music from the Soviet years, don't hesitate to add these hitherto unheard works to your collection. The more I listen to the Harp Concerto, the more I feel the unjustified neglect of a great 20th century composer.

Jean-Yves Duperron - December 2020