Since the death of Dmitri Shostakovich five years ago, we have heard hardly any new music from the Soviet Union. Last February, Kiril Kondrashin conducted a work by the 55-year-old Boris Tchaikovsky in his guest appearances with the National Symphony Orchestra. The previous year, Yuri Termirkanov brought a symphony by the 45-year-old Soviet Georgian Gya Kancheli to Philadelphia Orchestra audiences. And, occasionally, there have been performances of pieces by Rodion Shchedrin, now 48, who is virtually the only Soviet composer under 50 to have achieved significant exposure in the West. For most of us, acquaintance with the post-Shostakovich generation stops there.
Those interested in knowing a bit more will welcome the new Supraphon record (1110 2280) on which Petr Vronsky conducts the Prague Symphony Orchestra in brief works by four other Soviet composers now in their forties. We might have expected such a package from Moscow rather than Prague, or at least with a Russian conductor, but the Czechs perform this music with evident commitment and make a strong case for it. None of it could be called avant-garde, but all of it is clearly of our time.
The oldest of the four composers represented on this disc is Sergei Slonimsky, 48, who happens to be a nephew of that unique and invaluable figure in our own musical life, Nicolas Slonimsky. Sergei Slominsky's "Dramatic Song," composed in 1973 and dedicated to Kiril Kondrashin, is the shortest of the four works in this collection (10 minutes) and probably the most striking. It has a portentous character, punctuated by chimes and pronouncements from the bass trombone; there are subtle references to the Dies Irae, which has fascinated so many Russian composers, and echoes, too, of traditional Russian festive music in this concise, well-crafted, provocative piece.
The youngest member of this foursome is Boris Tischenko, 41, whose name may be the best-known of the lot. Rostropovich's recording of his Concerto for Cello, 17 Winds and Organ circulated here a few years ago on Melodiya/Angel. Tischenko, Shostakovich's star pupil, recently signed an article in the Soviet publication Literaturnaya Gazeta denouncing his mentor's memoirs and their editor, Solomon Volkov -- although Volkov has stated that he could not have produced the memoirs (published last year under the title "Testimony") without Tischenko's help. Tishchenko's one-movement "Sinfonia Robusta" (1970) with its striking horn solos, echoes Shostakovich's style in the writing for strings, percussion and winds, but nevertheless manages to convey a good deal of individuality.
Vladislav Uspensky, 43, was another pupil of Shostakovich, and the great man's echoes are still strong in his "Music for String and Percussion Instruments" (1967), whose five interlinked movements add up to the longest of the four works on the disc. It is a compliment, perhaps, to say that the music is strong enough to pass for genuine Shostakovich, but the more pronounced element of individuality in the Tishchenko piece may be a indication of why Tishchenko was Shostakovich's favorite pupil.
Yuri Falik, 44, numbers among his compositions an "Elegiac Music in Commemoration of Igor Stravinsky," for chamber orchestra, and Stravinsky's influence may be felt in his "Music for String Instruments" (1965), the earliest of the works recorded here. It is specifically the Stravinsky of the neo-classical period that is suggested here, but his is a very general sort of resemblance, which provides a framework for some unreservedly expressive material, particularly in the prominent part for solo violin.
These four pieces may stimulate an appetite for more from some of the composer involved. The performances definitely make me want to hear more from Petr Vronsky, and Supraphon had done a splendid job, in both the actucal recording and the flawless pressing.