Dmitri Kabalevsky: Symphony No.2


Premiered on Christmas Day in 1934, Dmitri Kabalevsky’s Second Symphony is by far the most popular of the four he composed during his lifetime. Although first performed by the Moscow Philharmonic in 1934, the Second Symphony did not receive its international premiere until 1942, with the NBC Orchestra performing and recording the work in New York City. Although often shadowed by his contemporaries, Shostakovich and Prokofiev, Kabalevsky’s Second Symphony cemented his place in the scene. Similarly to some of his contemporaries, the symphony is said to approach themes of reforming society within the new Soviet values of the Stalin era. 


The Music

Set into three movements, Kabalevsky runs through a number of characters and atmospheres, from jubilance to solemnity. 


Movement I – Allegro quasi presto

The opening movement, based largely around C minor, starts at a controlled Allegro tempo. Fats moving string themes integrate between mimicking woodwind and bold brass that penetrate the texture. Bold brass fanfares break the themes up and adds to the militaristic flair of the music. Kabalevsky’s style is usually accessible, and this movement proves no different. The lyrical melodies and the slow build of texture towards the pinnacle climax prove the composer’s evident talents. The last few pages of music prove to be the most climactic as the orchestra grows together to hit  a huge shift in dynamic. After a quick march theme the movement ends with bold unison stabs.


Movement II – Andante non troppo

The subdued second movement is much slower in tempo, and focuses on a number of soloists within the orchestra. The flute starts this chain as the strings accompany with a warm counter-melody. Although not necessarily heartbreaking, the nuances in this movement is what makes it effective and a suitable respite from the two outer movements. A glorious horn counter-theme is played as the strings continue to build on their foundations. Kabalevsky experiments with dynamics throughout this movement, with there being very loud sections and also deathly quiet ones. This adds some light and shade to the music, adding interest to the overall movement. 


Movement III – Prestissimo scherzando

The quick-paced finale opens with a woodwind scherzo theme. The strings and muted trumpets take over the theme as Kabalevsky quickly layers more voices into the mix. The bassoon and triangle play pinnacle parts in this movement, with them both adding to the texture in unique ways. More dramatic dynamics plague this movement, with the very loud sections being bolstered by the percussion section. After a peppy clarinet solo the music quickly moves on to the next round of themes. The intricate writing and buzz within the music makes this movement the most exciting. Concluding with a huge climax and a short reprise of the main theme, Kabalevsky’s Second Symphony ends boldly. 


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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