Classical Reissue Reviews

TCHAIKOVSKY: Variations on a Rococo Theme; Souvenir de Florence; The Tempest–Symphonic Fantasy – Mstislav Rostropovich, cello/Leningrad Philharmonic Orch./ Gennady Rozhdestvensky/Borodin String Q./ USSR Sym./ Evgeny Svetlanov – Regis

A Tchaikovsky reissue of anomalous but lovely works, brilliantly performed in each case and sonically splendid.

Published on January 31, 2011

TCHAIKOVSKY: Variations on a Rococo Theme; Souvenir de Florence; The Tempest–Symphonic Fantasy – Mstislav Rostropovich, cello/Leningrad Philharmonic Orch./ Gennady Rozhdestvensky/Borodin String Q./ USSR Sym./ Evgeny Svetlanov – Regis

TCHAIKOVSKY: Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op. 33; Souvenir de Florence in D Minor, Op. 70; The Tempest–Symphonic Fantasy to Shakespeare’s Drama, Op. 18 – Mstislav Rostropovich, cello/Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra/ Gennady Rozhdestvensky/Borodin String Quartet/USSR Symphony Orchestra/ Evgeny Svetlanov - Regis RRC1348, 76:22 [Distr. by Qualiton] ****:

A strange compendium of Tchaikovsky as performed by distinguished Russian musicians, this disc, but stylistically and temperamentally ardent and monumental always. Culled from various labels and recorded 1963 (Rococo), 1965 (Souvenir), and 1970 (The Tempest), Regis has remastered the sound courtesy of Paul Arden-Taylor. The performance of the Rococo Variations with Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007) and Gennady Rozhdestvensky occupied a revered place on the DGG catalogue for years, and deservedly so. Given that the edition still conforms to the now-discredited Fitzenhagen edition, the performance enjoys such plastic nuance and security of expression that academic arguments seem misplaced. The Andante sostenuto variant alone justifies the price of admission, Rostropovich holding long notes that hover in some refined aether well distant from mortal concerns. The dialogue with flute solo emerges as of a ballet scene from The Sleeping Beauty. The little codetta that serves as a link between sections Rozhdestvensky realizes with alternately dainty and voluptuous skill. The D Minor Andante variation basks in an aural universe–including high harmonics–apart, a model of the Tchaikovsky style. The final Allegro vivo in perpetual 32nd notes testifies to a level of virtuoso execution fit for all royalty of spirit.

The Borodin String Quartet established itself as an active ensemble in 1945, and so in 2005 it marked its 60th anniversary. The Tchaikovsky Souvenir de Florence (1890) marks his final excursion into the chamber music realm, and the work most often plays as conceived – as a string sextet. The quartet-form offered here does not diminish the grand lines, and it does link us musically to the spirit of Hugo Wolf’s Italian Serenade. The contrapuntal lines stand out clearly, as they must in the smaller medium with its  concomitant focus on inner details. Most of the Borodin Quartet’s tempos prove quite brisk, and the ferocity of the opening line and subsequent reappearances strike us with passionate resolve. A series of symphonic chords sets the tone for the lovely Adagio cantabile--with its misterioso central section–in pizzicato triplets under a most operatic utterance. When  the four instruments convert the theme to a mighty chorale, the labor of love has indeed been consummated.

The viola briefly assumes the mantle of the rustic third movement in A Minor, the first of the two movements that carry a distinctly Russian flavor. Passing the tune to the first violin with harmonization, the music gains a thrilling sense of purpose. The cellist, too, has his moment in the grumbling sun, the music suddenly sliding into a trio of Mendelssohnian pizzicati and scampering playfulness. Cross rhythms, contrapuntal development, and symphonic convulsions define the lusty last movement, Allegro vivace, Tchaikovsky’s trying to balance his folk-Russian passion with (Germanic) classical, polyphonic procedures, the musical duality of his entire creative oeuvre.

The full orchestra returns with Evgeny Svetlanov’s leading the USSR Symphony in the 1873 fantasia The Tempest, after William Shakespeare’s late drama on the nature of the creative imagination. Inspired by Vladimir Stasov, Tchaikovsky proceeded with The Tempest along the same lines he had employed in Romeo and Juliet. Divided strings announce a “sea” motif we know from our incursions into Rimsky-Korsakov, although the ostinati could be taken for early Bruckner. Brass interjections raise the spirit of Prospero, while animated string figures in a Mendelssohnian vein usher in Ariel. A visceral storm in Russian doxology shipwrecks Ferdinand on the magic isle, where “the first timid feelings of love of Miranda” congeal first in the cellos and then in orchestra, tutti. The romantic effusions suffer interruption from Ariel and a new grotesque impulse, Caliban, whose slashing lines and chromatic scales in the punctuated woodwinds well anticipate Stravinsky. Svetlanov now permits the love theme in all its operatic grandeur to rival the Romeo and Juliet surges of passion. The Herculean power of Prospero himself erupts in Lisztian harmony, eventually dissipating as Prospero relinquishes his magic for human possibilities, the eternal sea the only remnant of the shifting tides of mortal affairs.

–Gary Lemco




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