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David Wolman
Fanfare, November 2010

It has been noted that Alla Pavlova’s music is “cinematic,” which is a euphemism for anachronistic. Nevertheless, it takes a lot of dedication and skill to write background music for Hollywood method actors. I, for one, think John Williams, for example, is a great composer—and don’t forget that Bernard Hermann and Erich Wolfgang Korngold were film composers, though both had aspirations to be (and in Korngold’s case had an entire other career as) serious, symphonic composers. And need I mention Leonard Bernstein, Max Steiner, Dimitri Tiomkin, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Benjamin Britten, and Elmer Bernstein? But why do we assume that anything written in the old style must by definition be film music? Yes, distinctions between the varieties of artistic style are a bit silly, like arguing about whether Andrew Wyeth is a better painter than Jasper Johns. In a way, all so-called “classical” music is anachronistic at this point. People would rather Twitter than listen to it, except those of us who exist in our own rarified worlds and still read the print edition of the New York Times. Speaking of reading, who does anymore? We’re all so busy, we can just about spare the time for Huffington Post Quick Reads.

Pavlova obviously has the chops to write symphonic works—she’s written six symphonies. And apparently she writes with pencil and paper. That’s sort of like writing novels with yellow legal pads and Bics. It’s mostly good music with all the appropriate gestures of “important” music. This CD houses her Symphony No. 6 and Thumbelina Suite. Gee, I haven’t thought about Thumbelina (“tiny but brave”) in a long time, and so relevant to current times. The last movement is quite sweet. If Pavlova is channeling Tchaikovsky, so what? There’s room for all comers, otherwise there wouldn’t be a book-length Fanfare every other month filled with new CD releases. And I’d like to spare Pavlova the snobbery of those who think if you’re not writing left-handed 12-tone concertos for garbage truck and pneumatic drill with a time signature involving square roots, you’re just plain old hat. If Pavlova’s symphony is the musical equivalent of a romance novel, so what? Look, you’d want to be a romantic, too, if you’d previously composed for the Union of Bulgarian Composers and the Russian Musical Society Board in Moscow.

I do get the impression that Pavlova hasn’t absorbed much new music, even though she’s lived in New York since 1990. Either she’s sequestered herself from both the uptown and downtown styles, or she’s adamantly against expressing an original voice, which is a philosophical stance you could adhere to, like someone who spends her life going to Renaissance fairs in costume. I find it hard to condemn her for this or anything else, for that matter. I find her music relaxing and nostalgic, a bit like running across an old Hoover vacuum cleaner at a flea market and realizing it still works. Which reminds me: When I was a child I asked my father why people didn’t just write music like Schubert. His answer may be as wise today as it was then: “Schubert already wrote Schubert.”

Nick Barnard
MusicWeb International, September 2010

Naxos have yet again proved to be staunch and loyal supporters of new repertoire and composers. Lucky the musician who can write a major forty minute symphony in November and have it recorded for international distribution the following June. Indeed all five of Alla Pavlova’s previous symphonies and her ballet Sulamith have been recorded on this label. However, this is my first encounter with her music so by definition my impressions are not born of long exposure or great experience...Pavlova contributes the liner-note which explains that she ‘names’ each of her symphonies. This is not to mean that they are subtitled—the main work here is simply Symphony No.6—instead she likens it to the relationship between mother and child. So for Pavlova this symphony is Vincent—after the painter Van Gogh. Apparently a copy of his Starry Night—reproduced on the CD cover—sits over the composer’s piano in her study and whilst there is no specific programme to the work she writes; “…they share to some degree, the same view: that life, filled with endless energy and creativity, is a synthesis of joy and sorrow”...On one hand, Pavlova links the music to Van Gogh with the statement above and on the other we are presented with a work whose movements are simply titled “I, II, III and IV Finale” with no other indication at all...Pavlova is good at creating an atmosphere...I find the style of this music more cinematic than symphonic—that is not a comment on the structure of the work but the way in which the mood remains so static, as if accompanying a scene. Pavlova’s assured handling of the orchestra is very conservative and at no point during the work did I feel she produced textures or sounds that would have disturbed the sleep of a 19th Century composition teacher. Likewise the harmonic palette is very ‘safe’ with the chords that would make Rachmaninoff seem radical. She does not seek to pare the harmony away either so it is not as if she wants to tread the path of minimalism either...I would not want to give the impression that I did not find things to enjoy here—the big climax about 3:00 into track 2 has a rather epic grandeur...[The other work on this disc is] the ballet suite Thumbelina which Pavlova describes as “a kind of immigrant’s story performed by animals”. I can’t think of many fairytales with diaspora as a central theme so probably best here to ignore any narrative and focus on the music. The greater narrative demands here sits more easily with Pavlova’s naturally illustrative pictorial style. Again the mood is overtly romantic and traditional...this is music stronger on atmosphere than any explicitly dance-led intent. Track 6 Waltz Mirage is hardly original in its use of celesta but has a nostalgic charm and a light regret that is all the more welcome after the sobriety of the disc to this point...The following Tango [track 7] again has a sinuous interest...Generally the work as a whole benefits from a more transparent scoring and the gentler less oppressively emotional objective.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2010

Completed three years ago, Alla Pavlova’s Sixth Symphony is one of innate beauty often created in soft and muted hues. They do say there is no greater zealot than a convert, Pavlova having started her composing life in the world of atonality, and it was only with the Fifth that found her writing in purely tonal terms. Born in Russia in 1952, she studied at the Gnesin Academy of Music in Moscow, before working as a composer in Sofia and Moscow. Moving to the United States in 1990, she soon joined the New York Women Composers group, her first symphony written there in 1994. Always a sure-footed orchestrator, her long lyrical lines are directly engaging, the symphony being inspired by Vincent van Gough’s painting The Starry Night. The work slowly discloses more of the night as it progresses, both in terms of momentum and passion. Pavlova has a recent attachment to the minimalist school in the repetition of short phrases, here building a musical jigsaw to form a larger picture. The two lengthy opening movements heavily contrast with the last two of a much shorter duration, the finale oscillating between the peace of the work’s opening and an aggressive motif. Always fighting deadlines, Pavlova had only a suite from a new ballet, Thumbelina, ready in time for the recording. Based on the Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale. it is going to be a delightful score and well suited to young ears. Once known as the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Tchaikovsky Symphony is sa fine ensemble, its leader, Mikhail Shestakov, having many excellently played solo passages in both works. Very good sound engineering.

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