I really must find more time to listen to music! 24/7 seems to not be enough when there are new pieces to be discovered and old friends to be experienced again.
Here, for example, is Volume Five of Emil Tabakov’s Complete Symphonies, courtesy of the always-enterprising Toccata Classics label. I have not heard the previous four releases, nor do I know how many such works this Bulgarian composer-conductor (born 1947) has written, so far. But I like what I hear in these two examples, the first recordings of Symphonies 2 (1984) and 6 (2001) and not because they “explore the darker side of the human spirit … austere … powerful”, but because it’s gripping music on its own terms; and I have let my ears decide what is being expressed. (There is a generous booklet note.) And, yes, Shostakovich gets a mention – I had thought of him before reading his name as a reference: if you’re okay with the Russian’s music, you’ll be fine with Tabakov’s more-generalised ‘modernism’. The sadly late Christopher Rouse also comes to mind, but his music is in a different league.
Tabakov’s two-movement No.2 is intense, angst-ridden, and cinematic in some respects, its initial isolation turning into an explosive release of energy in what follows. This all might be heard as Tabakov expressing the World’s sorrows and publicly lamenting them, the music eventually stopping in mid-sentence.
At twice the length, fifty minutes, the four-movement “tragic” Sixth Symphony opens as if a coiled-up spring has been set in motion (a bit like Nielsen’s Third), then becoming reflective, then scurrying, percussion banging as if the authorities are breaking down the door, the strings suggesting an inhabitant scared witless.
Now a doubt: as much as I respond to this indomitable utterance, if you have heard Symphony 2 then you have already encountered the Sixth in certain aspects – maybe Tabakov has a need to compose as if doing so is akin to an exorcism – and as much as I respond positively at any one moment I am aware of the sameness across the whole and that there is little or no light at the end of the tunnel.
I stayed with both works, intrigued, and appreciative that the composer also conducts searing accounts with the Symphony Orchestra of Bulgarian National Radio (Symphony No.2) and the Plovdiv Philharmonic. Good sound, from 1985 and 2002. By the way, Symphony 6 ends by flickering to nothingness, like a candle. Toccata Classics TOCC 0562.