Salmanov Works for Choir Northern Flowers

Vadim Nikolayevich Salmanov (1912-1977) 
Works for Choir
Leningrad Radio and TV Choir/Grigori Sandler
rec. 1968-1985, Leningrad
Northern Flowers NFPMA99156 [73]

Russian composer Salmanov’s name has cropped up before in these pages: the four numbered symphonies on Melodiya and at least one other label, some ambitious choral/orchestral pieces and the string quartets. The present disc contains stereo recordings from 1968-85, made in the Leningrad recording studios. Apart from the intrinsic pleasure they radiate, they help place an unfamiliar Salmanov genre in the ever-widening vista of choice. They also have a certain allure and should please those curious to wander down ill-considered pathways in music.

The booklet notes locate these works in the right timeline with other works both known, little known and unknown. I am not sure that Latvian, Janis Ivanovs would thank me, but these choral pieces like Ivanovs’ Vocalises are nicely woven as landmarks into the time-frame around and between the composer’s symphonies, allowing for Ivanovs’ twenty-one as against Salmanov’s four. As we now discover, the Latvian composer’s Vocalises (Skani LMIC144) are just as poetically accessible as Salmanov’s and are also crafted with a lightish touch.

There are six groups across which we hear almost thirty individual songs all sung in Russian. The Lyrical Choruses to Verses by Russian Poets set poems by Ivan Bunin, Apollon Maikov and Ivan Nikitin. Make no bones about it, these songs are pliant and accessible settings with “Mother Russia” engaged with a red-blooded throbbingly contemporary passion and distinguished by a single very forward soprano voice of virago-like assertiveness. ‘Swallow’s Song’ has a downy Holstian lightness which is made the more airy by the sleepily lulling ‘Night’ and the wind-buffeted skyward-looking ‘Spring Well’. 

The Five Choruses to words by Czech poets (Alexander Ram, Miroslav Florian, Milan Rufus, Josef Kainar) are again brief, melodious settings. No doubt there is a certain ambivalence in the choice of Czech writers. The settings date from eight years after the Prague/Dubček spring and the first chorus (‘Bayonets and Helmets to Re-melting’) appears to look to the same reconciliation/chastening (swords into plough-shares) as Finzi’s A Farewell to Arms. From 1968, the Three Russian Songs for mixed voices return to “True North” in the traditional words of “The People”.  

The generously packed disc then, and finally, accommodates two groups for mixed voices: the Eight-Line Stanzas by Rasul Gamzatov (1962) and the delightfully titled and substantial Swan Ladylove. Concerto for mixed choir (1966) which again sets traditional words. In the 1962 work the first setting (“The Book of Life” [tr.19]) proclaims its debt to sacred chant as evidenced by the likes of Kastalsky and Rachmaninov in the latter’s two major devotional choral works (Vespers and Liturgy of St John Chrysostom). ‘You Want to Know’ [tr. 20] and ‘Old Friend of Mine’ [tr.21] are by turns passionate and evocative of old times and friendships: solo voices amid the main body of singing: female in one case and male in the other. For fear I leave the impression that the singing is lugubrious, let me assure you that there is playfulness as well – for example in ‘Where To?’ [tr. 23]. Swan Ladylove is in five movements and has about it the fondly romantic fairy-fable atmosphere of Hans Christian Andersen on one hand and Liadov’s vivid miniature tone poems on the other. It revives in more modern apparel the form of other choral concertos including those written some centuries earlier for sacred purposes by Bortniansky. The penultimate setting ‘They’ve Taken Our Sister Away’ nicely contrasts melodic undulations with what amounts to Sprechgesang. Not for the last time are we reminded of Sibelius’s Rakastava melding with Penderecki’s early choral writing.

As is true of all these recordings, the choir sings with the utmost sensitivity to sentiment and dynamic. The choir’s passion does nothing to dilute its unanimity. All these qualities are testimony to the singers’ collective dedication and to the skill of Grigori Sandler. After all, these recordings evince consistency across approaching two decades. The only shortfall in this disc is the lack of full sung texts and parallel translations. The booklet notes by Yuri Serov are well ‘Englished’ by Sergey Suslov. They give the gist of what is being sung in tandem with background notes on the music and on the composer’s progress. The booklet illustration features Mikhail Vrubel’s lustrously vivacious Swan Princess. (1900) not at all out of place in a disc that ends with Swan Ladylove.

Rob Barnett

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The Lyrical Choruses to Verses by Russian Poets for female voices (1968) 
[1] I. Rus (Mother Russia). (words by Ivan Bunin) 
[2] II. Swallow’s Song. (words by Apollon Maikov) 
[3] III. Night. (words by Ivan Nikitin) 
[4] IV. Spring Well. (words by Ivan Bunin) 
[5] V. Sunrise. (words by Apollon Maikov) 
[6] VI. In Autumn. (words by Ivan Bunin) 
[7] VII. House-Warming. (words by Ivan Bunin) 

Five Choruses to (words by Czech Poets) for mixed voices (1976) 
[8] I. Bayonets and Helmets to Re-melting. (words by Alexander Ram) 
[9] II. Autumn. (words by Miroslav Florian) 
[10] III. Poetry. (words by Milan Rufus)  
[11] IV. The Blues of Her Tears. (words by Josef Kainar) 
[12] V. Guitar. (words by Miroslav Florian) 

Three choruses, (words by Nikolai Rubtsov) for male voices (1977) 
[13] I. The Old Road 
[14] II. The First Snow 
[15] III. My Soul will Cherish 

Three Russian Songs for mixed voices (Traditional words) (1968) 
[16] I. White and Rosy 
[17] II. Shall I Go, Out of Grief 
[18] III. Sidor Polikarpovich 

Eight-Line Stanzas, (words by Rasul Gamzatov) for mixed voices (1962)
[19] I. The Book of Life 
[20] II. You Want to Know 
[21] III. Old Friend of Mine 
[22] IV. How Goes it? 
[23] V. Where To? 
[24] VI. The Summit 

Swan Ladylove. Concerto for mixed choir. (Trad. Words) (1966) 
[25] I. Is it High, Yea, is it High 
[26] II. Wild Winds 
[27] III. O My Hazes  
[28] IV. They’ve Taken Our Sister Away 
[29] V. The She-Swan Drank Water by the Sea