The worst composer that ever lived? For brute opportunism, few come close to Tikhon Khrennikov.
As secretary of the USSR Composers Union from 1948 to 1991, Khrennikov had a right of veto on all new music that was published or performed in the Soviet Union and joined vehemently in the party’s attacks on prohibited styles. Later, he would claim that he saved composers from the gulag. Recent research suggests the opposite. Notably, he did not lift a finger to save Prokofiev’s wife, Lena, from Siberia. A member of the Supreme Soviet and the party’s central committee, Khrennikov lived in luxury and brought great composers to heel, reducing Shostakovich at times to a quivering wreck. He died unrepentant in 2007, aged 94.
So what kind of music can we expect from a conscienceless tyrant? On this hearing, very capable scores
So what kind of music can we expect from a conscienceless tyrant? On this hearing, very capable scores. Three concertos on this compilation album are recorded by the young Vadim Repin, Evgeny Kissin and Maxim Vengerov at a time when they could not refuse. The fourth is played by Khrennikov himself.
Both piano concertos have their moments, the first flirting with the kind of cacophony the composer condemned in Shostakovich and the second wallowing in Slavonic nostalgia. The violin concertos are less interesting, lifting undigested ideas from superior composers and stitching them together with off-the-shelf orchestration. Nevertheless, you will want to hear what the young Kissin does with such undistinguished material and to experience the level of artistic creation that was vaunted in the former workers’ paradise. The applause, in these live concerts, is never louder than polite.
Artists: Vadim Repin, Evgeny Kissin, Maxim Vengerov, Tikhon Krennikov, Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra Moscow/Fedoseyev
Norman Lebrecht is a prolific commentator on music and cultural affairs and an award-winning novelist. See his blog Slipped Disc.