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Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Alexander Mosolov - Cello Concerto No. 2; Symphony No. 1 (Dmitry Eremin; Alexander Titov)


Composer: Alexander Mosolov
  • (01) Cello Concerto No. 2, Op. 34
  • (04) Symphony in E major (No. 1)

Dmitry Eremin, cello
St. Petersburg State Academic Symphony Orchestra
Alexander Titov, conductor

Date: 2011
Label: Northern Flowers



The avowed aim of Northern Flowers’ Wartime Music CD series is “to restore historic justice in respect of undeservedly forgotten compositions and authors.” This is a laudable idea, and no one is more deserving of justice than the monumentally-mistreated composer Alexander Mosolov (1900-1973). Whether the works on the present reissue CD deserve an equal measure of justice is debatable. But first, about Mosolov:

He studied at the Moscow Conservatory under Glière and Myaskovsky, writing his first mature compositions while still a student. In the forward-looking 1920s, Mosolov quickly became a leading light of the Russian avant-garde. He was elected to the influential Association of Modern Music and began composing a string of advanced compositions, including the notorious Irony Foundry from the ballet Steel, still regarded as the centerpiece of Soviet Futurism. (If you can track it down, there’s a great recording of the work on Decca with Riccardo Chailly leading the Concertgebouw Orchestra.) Mosolov’s anguished First String Quartet sounds like a feral cross between Scriabin and Bartók.

By the early 1930s, the wind had changed in Russia. The machinery of repression was firmly in place, and Mosolov found it impossible to get work or have his compositions published. He went so far as to complain in a letter to Stalin of his situation, pleading to be sent to the provinces to study folk music since he could find no employment in Moscow.

Mosolov got his wish, traveling to the far-flung corners of the Soviet empire—Kirgizia, Armenia, Turkmenistan—taking down the local melodies and finally incorporating them in his own original compositions. But even his days in the provinces were controversial. He ran afoul of local authorities, and then a newspaper article appeared accusing him of drunkenness and debauchery. Mosolov was arrested in 1937 for “counterrevolutionary tendencies” and interned in a gulag; only the intervention of his former teachers at the Conservatory managed to get him released early.

His reinstatement as an accepted if not cherished member of the establishment was aided by the Great Patriotic War, during which he turned out a succession of affirmative, cause-oriented pieces. Like most of the great corpus of work he produced over his lifetime, they are largely forgotten.

It seems to me Mosolov’s Second Cello Concerto is deserving of this fate. The work starts off well enough, with a songful, much-engaged cello solo pitted against an orchestra in which percussion has a prominent, colorful, sometimes aggressive place. Alas, the second movement is a musical snuff-box of an affair, and the last is a piece of populist fluff that any hack would be proud to call his own. Sorry to be so hard on this music, but the truth sometimes hurts.

The Symphony in E Major is made of somewhat sterner stuff, the operative word here being “somewhat.” This isn’t, after all, another Prokofiev Fifth or Shostakovich Eighth, but the work has its points.

The first movement sounds like the monumental music of Borodin or Rimsky updated with Impressionist overtones; some of the shimmering orchestral effects of Daphnis and Chloe or The Fountains of Rome seem to inform the music. Throughout, it is evident, too, that Mosolov was a pupil of one Nikolai Miaskovsky.

The third movement is a kind of laid-back scherzo marked Largo maestoso. Pesante. The pesante-quality of the music seems to conjure the happy people of the Russian hinterland and their music. The “trio” section has lots of high percussion and pizzicato strings, perhaps mimicking folk instruments. But as the scherzo proper returns, the mood darkens a bit, and a military beat seems to enter the music. War clouds lengthening over Mother Russia?

The last movement seems to provide an answer. Beginning with a dramatic peroration based on the coda of the first movement, the dark mood prevails through the development section, lightening a bit with the introduction of the second theme (though cast in the minor key), the folksong “O Rasseya, My Rasseya.” But then the military strains return, this time resolute and upbeat—Russia mobilized and ready to put the hurt on her enemies. In cyclical fashion, there is a reprise of most of the themes from the symphony’s earlier episodes before the triumphal martial music drives all before it.

As you’d expect, Shostakovich did this sort of thing more effectively and memorably in his Leningrad Symphony. However, Mosolov’s piece should be heard, both as a specimen of its time in history and as a work that still has points to make. It’s attractively orchestrated, skillfully written from a technical standpoint, with interesting musical ideas even if they aren’t always developed in the most compelling ways.

The St. Petersburg orchestra plays this music as if they have a proprietary stake in it and as if they believe in it utterly. They play well, too, except for some intonation problems, mainly in the brass. The cellist, Dmitry Yeremin, has a singing tone and a tight but evident vibrato that sounds very Russian. Or maybe it’s just the repertoire. In any event, his involvement in this music is a hand-in-glove proposition. He’s balanced very much forward in the mix, yet the orchestra is captured with real clarity and presence.

Overall, this disc is a mixed blessing, but if you have any interest in the byroads of Soviet music, you should hear Mosolov’s big Symphony in E Major.

-- Lee PassarellaAudiophile Audition


Alexander Mosolov (11 August [O.S. 29 July] 1900 – 11 July 1973) was a composer of the early Soviet era, known best for his early futurist piano sonatas, orchestral episodes, and vocal music. Mosolov studied at the Moscow Conservatory and achieved his greatest fame in the Soviet Union and around the world for his 1926 composition, Iron Foundry. Later conflicts with Soviet authorities led to his expulsion from the Composers' Union in 1936 and imprisonment in the Gulag in 1937. His later music conformed to the Soviet aesthetic to a much greater degree, but he never regained the success of his early career.


Dmitry Eremin (born 1976 in Leningrad) is a Russian cellist.


Alexander Titov (born 1954 in Leningrad) is a Russian conductor.


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  2. Thanks a lot, it's a delight to have some Mosolov here !