Hyperion Records

Symphonic Poem 'Russia'
1864; originated as Second Overture on Russian Themes; revised as Musical Picture 1000 Years in 1869; published as Rus' in 1889

'Balakirev: Symphonies & Symphonic Poems' (CDD22030)
Balakirev: Symphonies & Symphonic Poems
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Track 5 on CDD22030 CD1 [15'10] 2CDs Dyad (2 for the price of 1)

Symphonic Poem 'Russia'
The symphonic poem Russia originated as ‘Second Overture on Russian Themes’, first performed in 1864. It was revised and published as Musical Picture, ‘1000 years’ in 1869, and further slight revisions were made and a superfluous programme was concocted for it in the 1880s; this version was first published as symphonic poem Rus’ (the old name for Russia) in 1889. The three folksongs employed by Balakirev had all been collected by himself on an expedition up the River Volga in 1860, and are furnished with an authentic ambience very seldom matched and never surpassed by other Russian composers.

A slow, evocative theme in the Dorian mode transposed (‘It was not the wind’) is used as an introduction and epilogue, and two fast dance themes are employed in the main, sonata-form Allegro moderato. ‘It was not the wind’ gives a feeling of epic antiquity and is felicitously repeated and developed in differing surroundings in a manner to be used by Tchaikovsky in the original version of the first movement of his second symphony, much influenced by this work. The two folk dance themes, one in the major and the other in the minor mode, are bridged by a version of ‘It was not the wind’, which also recurs in combination with them in the development section, so that it is totally integrated into the structure in a manner which gives intellectual as well as poetic satisfaction. A new, original melody serves to flesh out the material, occurring towards the end of the exposition and in the recapitulation.

The work finishes as it began, but with the addition of the first dance theme which is ingeniously incorporated in the slow closing bars creating, in the end, a magic caught only for a moment before its elusive aural fragrance fades. The creative imagination displayed by Balakirev is of a very high order, and he was right to be proud of this seminal and beautiful composition.

from notes by Edward Garden © 1998

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