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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
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Rodion SHCHEDRIN (b.1932)
Carmen Suite for strings and percussion Ballet (1967) [40.17]
Russian Photographs (1994) [23.49] *
Glorification (1995) [9.30] *
Chamber Orchestra, Kremlin/Misha Rachlevsky
rec. Great Hall, Moscow Conservatory, 17 Jan 2001. DDD
* world premiere recording
CLAVES CD 50-2207 [75.39]

Producer Valentin Ivanov and his team show a peculiarly Russian defiance when it comes to close-up miking. They exploit to the full the reverberation of the Great Hall. If you have a nostalgic hankering for the gaudy sonics of 1970s EMI-Melodiya LPs your pilgrimage is complete. Yes, this does indeed sound like the Kondrashin version of Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances. By the way the balance on the vibraphone in tr.5 is exactly what I am looking for in the next recording of Roy Harris's Seventh Symphony. Both player and technicians allow the instrument to sing out and resound.

The percussion in the Carmen Suite are rendered very closely indeed. This is, after all, fun music so we need to leave our purist po-faces at the door. Well, I suppose if you are even contemplating listening to this Bizet confection (some would say rip-off) you are not going to be a purist. I can imagine this disc being reached down whenever someone wants to put their hifi through its paces. Is it any worse than what Rubbra did to Farnaby, Britten to Purcell, Bliss to Blow, Schuman to Billings? If these works do not attract criticism for what they are the reason may be more to do with an unspoken rule that it's OK to make an adaptation provided a couple of centuries have passed since the composer died but that arrangements made in one century of works completed the previous century are up for censure.

The suite is however full of tension and musical intrigue. Perhaps DePreist on Delos makes a shade more of the Habanera but in general he finds himself outpointed by the sheer cheek and shamelessness of Rachlevsky and his much augmented orchestra.

The Carmen piece is now notorious and recorded perhaps more than a dozen times. The other two Shchedrin pieces are recorded for the first time. The Photographs suite is an assemblage of four genre pieces - character sketches really. The Ancient Town of Aleksin is a reference to the composer's birthplace sketched in mists and blurred outlines. The second movement, Cockroaches throughout Moscow has the strings rawly skittering and skedaddling hither and thither. This is a modern virtuosity derived from Elgar's Introduction and Allegro for strings. The great sour grumbling passacaglia that is the Stalin Cocktail traces its way back to similar 'scorched earth' adagios in Shostakovich 6, 7, 8 and 12. The Evening Bells movement continues in a similar dissonance-laced vein.

Glorification was commissioned for the World Economic Forum at Davos. Earnest virtuosity is how I would describe this music. The music has been affected by the Penderecki Threnody. Shchedrin is remarkable for the consistency of activity and invention across the entire sound spectrum.

The liner notes are excellent.

Overall a disc of showcase highlights from a composer of brilliant aural imagination. If you have any doubts try the Scene from Carmen (tr.6) - a hysterical rat-run like a clockwork nutmeg and bradawl gone berserk.

Rob Barnett

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