Classical CD Reviews

BORODIN: String Sextet No.2 in D minor; GLAZUNOV: String Quintet In A; ARENSKY: String Quartet No.2 in A minor – The Nash Ensemble – Onyx

Highly recommended set of three string quartets/quintets/sextets by Russian composers.

Published on October 11, 2012

BORODIN: String Sextet No.2 in D minor; GLAZUNOV: String Quintet In A; ARENSKY: String Quartet No.2 in A minor – The Nash Ensemble – Onyx

BORODIN: String Sextet No.2 in D minor; GLAZUNOV: String Quintet In A, Op. 39; ARENSKY: String Quartet No.2 in A minor, Op.35 – The Nash Ensemble – Onyx 4067, 65:41 (Distr. by Harmonia mundi) *****:

Romantic Russian chamber music has something special going for it: melodies derived from both native folk music and orthodox church music. This superb sounding Onyx recording touches on three significant Russian composers with some of their lesser-heard works.

The Nash Ensemble has put together a delightful concert of music. Alexander Borodin (1833-1877), whose day job was as a chemist, was studying his profession in Heidelberg (1859-1861) when he composed his second string sextet. Borodin referred to it as “very Medelssohnian in character and written to please the Germans.”

Unfortunately, all that remains is a torso of this magnificent composition, the first two movements, an Allegro and an Andante. The scoring is different, confident and invigorating to the ear. Soul-stirring.

The String Quintet in A, Op. 39 (1892) of Alexander Glazunov (1865-1936) is a four movement work, effectively using lyrical melodies and harmonics. The second movement Scherzo is reminiscent of the second movement of Debussy’s String Quartet composed a year later (1893).

If you like Glazunov’s The Seasons or Raymonda, or his violin concerto, this quintet should be as pleasing to you. Despite Glazunov’s famous and infamous accomplishments, this is one neglected work that should not remain so.

Anton Arensky (1861-1906) composed his String Quartet No.2 in A minor, Op. 35 in 1894. Arensky studied under Rimsky-Korsakov and became a harmony professor at the Moscow Conservatory in 1882. Here Tchaikovsky became Arensky’s friend and mentor. Tchaikovsky’s style greatly influenced Arensky.     Arensky died relatively young in a Finnish sanatorium accelerated by his alcohol and gambling addictions.

This instrumentally colorful second string quartet was dedicated “In Memory of Pytor Tchaikovsky.” Arensky’s Variations on a theme by Tchaikovsky for string orchestra was arranged from the quartet’s second movement (there are only three). This in turn was derived from Tchaikovsky’s Sixteen Songs for Children, Op. 54.

Arensky uses a Russian Orthodox funeral chant to open the work; it reappears in last movement. It is placed side by side with Slava Bogu (Glory to God). If you are familiar with Russian music, you will recognize these. Onyx has provided enveloping sound of demonstration quality. (Andrew Keener is the producer). The notes by Philip Borg-Wheeler are in English, German and French. They are short, concise and informative. Highly recommended!

— Zan Furtwangler




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