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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Variations on a Rococo Theme, for cello and orchestra, Op. 33 (edited by Wilhelm Fitzenhagen) (1876) [21.21]
Romances:* The Exploit [03.25]; I opened the window [01.22]; Nocturne in D minor, Op.19, No. 4 (arranged by Tchaikovsky from piano piece, Op. 19 No. 4 (1873) for cello and small orchestra) [05.16]
Romances:* Not a word… my friend [02.49]; Why? [03.25]; Alone again as before [02.20]; Don’t ask [02.09]
Andante cantabile in D minor (second movement of String Quartet No. 1, Op. 11 (1871) arranged by Tchaikovsky for cello and string orchestra) [08.01]
Romances:* Lullaby in a storm [02.17]; No! there was only one who knew [02.28]; Lullaby [04.56]; Does the day reign [03.26]
*Various songs arranged for cello and orchestra by Evgeni Stetsuk
Alexander Kniazev, cello
Moscow Chamber Orchestra/Constantine Orbelian
rec. Great Hall, Moscow Conservatory, Russia, 14-16 May 2005. DDD
WARNER CLASSICS 2564-62061-2 [63.43]

Warner Classics have a winning formula with these cello-centric highly melodic Tchaikovsky scores and transcriptions.

The featured work is the Rococo Variations. Tchaikovsky’s affection for Baroque music, and his adulation of Mozart, both find reflection here. The Variations were written expressly for Wilhelm Fitzenhagen, the German virtuoso cellist who was the composer’s friend and colleague at the Moscow Conservatoire. As Tchaikovsky didn’t play any stringed instrument he entrusted the editing of the score to Fitzenhagen who was given virtually a free hand and did not simply confine himself to editing the solo part.

We hear the version in which the score was published, and which is usually performed today, in an order devised by Fitzenhagen, and with one of Tchaikovsky’s own variations omitted. There is an abundance of poise and elegance about Kniazev’s impressive interpretation. In addition his playing displays a tremendously clean articulation and his instrument projects a rich timbre. It seems highly appropriate that Moscow-born Kniazev and the orchestra made this recording in the Moscow Conservatoire where Kniazev trained and the location with which Tchaikovsky’s writing of the score is so inextricably connected.

For a first choice in the Rococo Variations it is hard to look outside the evergreen accounts from Mstislav Rostropovich and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under Herbert von Karajan on Deutsche Grammophon 4474132 c/w the Dvořák concerto. There’s also Lynn Harrell and the Cleveland Orchestra under Lorin Maazel on Decca Ovation 4250202 again with the Dvořák and this time Bruch’s Kol Nidrei.

The second and most substantial score here is the Andante cantabile in D minor from the second movement of the first String Quartet, Op. 11 from 1871. Many arrangements of this highly popular movement soon appeared, both authorised and unauthorised. This is Tchaikovsky’s own version for cello and orchestra made in the mid-1880s. Tchaikovsky also made his own arrangement for cello and small orchestra of the yearning and achingly melodic Nocturne in D minor, a work that began life in 1873 as the piano piece, Op. 19, No. 4. Kniazev gives genuinely moving interpretations these two works, high on tenderness; long on eloquence.

The disc also contains ten short pieces for cello and orchestra from a selection of Tchaikovsky’s hundred or so songs, sensitively arranged by Evgeni Stetsuk. Kniazev offers really responsive performances of these miniatures, certainly adding value to the cello repertoire.

Alexander Kniazev and the Moscow Chamber Orchestra under American-born Constantine Orbelian prove sterling advocates of these appealing Tchaikovsky scores. Warm and well-balanced, the Warner Classics sound merits congratulations all round. Andrew Huth’s ample and excellent booklet notes are similarly fine. In short this is a really desirable disc.

Michael Cookson




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