MOYZES: Symphony No. 1 in D, op. 31 (1929/37); Symphony no. 2 in a, op. 16 (1942/41).
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra /Ladislav Slovák.
Naxos 8.573650 TT: 78:06.

Nice-Guy music. Alexander Moyzes (1906-84) seems Slovakia’s most prominent 20th-century composer. I don’t know many others, so take that with a spoonful of salt. A pupil of the Czech Víte╣zslav Novák (himself a student of Dvor╣ák), he is said to have founded a Modern Slovakian musical style. To me, he, like Novák, seems pre-Modern, transitional -- almost, but not quite, breaking free of the late 19th century. Mahler strikes me as more Modern in spirit than either.
One finds many influences, some unabsorbed, in Moyzes’s music: Mahler, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, among others. The arguments are long and tightly constructed, the craft -- particularly in the transformation of one motivic variation to another and in the orchestral counterpoint -- undeniable. Moyzes has the right kind of artistic ambition. This especially holds true for the first symphony (the two dates refer to two versions; we get the latter here). In the first two movements, an allegro and a slow, Moyzes gives us two marathons back-to-back. The scherzo harkens back to Tchaikovsky and, in the trio, to Mahler in its delicate folklorism, while the finale combines Sibelian propulsion with broad Tchaikovskian melodies.
Moyzes conceived the second symphony (he would end up with twelve) in three movements. He later removed one. Again, the disc presents the composer’s revision, consisting of two very long pieces. Here, Sibelius fades a bit, and Mahler steps in front -- not Mahler straight, but filtered through such lights as Zemlinsky and Novák. The turbulent first movement, a march with lyrical episodes, is monothematic; that is, all the contrasting ideas stem from its fanfare opening. The second movement doesn’t move so tightly. It begins as a moto perpetuo with thematic material that never make it past a certain point, where Moyzes hooks onto the first movement Urthema and rides it to the end. Along the way, we go through a variety of moods and hear a massive fugue on that idea.

Again, while one must admire the craft of these scores, one must also recognize that there’s not in either a truly grabbable or memorable moment, of the kind that occur so frequently in Mahler, Tchaikovsky, or Shostakovich. One thinks of the opening to Petrushka, the sleigh bells in Mahler’s Fourth, the scherzo of the Tchaikovsky, or the finale of the Shostakovich Thirteenth. Of course, not everyone has to operate at that level, but Moyzes doesn’t even come close. I find more such instances in a minor composer like Don Gillis than in Moyzes. The performances serve the composer, but, really, how can one tell with music so blah?

S.G.S. (August 2018)