Another generous compilation from BMG-Melodiya. This also has the virtues
of being an intégrale of a little considered and unfashionable corner
of Tchaikovsky's orchestral music. In this sense the suites are to be bracketed
with Brahms' serenades and Dvorák's and Liszt's symphonic poems.
Only the third of the four suites has enjoyed any real popularity and this
has focused on the final 20 minute theme and variations. Mozartiana may be
known as a name but the music remains in an obscurity shared also by the
first two suites.
The suites date from the decade between the high drama of the fourth symphony
and the balletic fantasy of the fifth. The first began to take shape in 1878.
The suites follow a Mozartian pattern. Mozart was, of course, a pattern for
Tchaikovsky. His dedication to opera was related to his reverence for Mozart's
operas. The suites are not pastiches. All the Tchaikovsky hallmarks are there
but the emotional temperature of the music leans towards the ballets rather
than the symphonies although there are certain parallels with the first three
There are six movements in the first suite, five in the second and four in
the last two.
The first movement of the first is mournful and shadowy with moments of storm
not fully unleashed. After a Brucknerian pause a grand fugue strides forward
which, in its string writing, recalls the Serenade for Strings. Svetlanov
deftly handles the varying dynamics providing some relief from a fugue which
goes on a little too long for its own good. The following divertimento is
just that but in the form of a dance. There is a degree more passion in the
next (and again rather overlong) Intermezzo with its long-lined buoyant
melody. The ensuing sprightly 'birdsong and tinkle' Marche miniature plays
just over two minutes and in its toybox perfection could easily have come
from Nutcracker. It seems that the composer wanted to omit this 'trashy'
(composer's words) piece but in fact it had to be reprised at the premiere.
The fifth movement is a playful scherzo, though again slightly too
extended for its material. The finale is, as the notewriter points out, a
counterpart for Prokofiev's Classical Symphony. It has an elegant
charm, humour and a gleam in the eye.
The second suite's 'jeux de sons' is fitfully intense but it is still,
as the title suggests, playful. The following valse points again forwards
towards Prokofiev's grand symphonic waltzes. Play and vivacious colour mark
out the scherzo. The childhood dreams of the fourth movement span
almost a quarter of an hour. It is a miniature tone poem with some startling
impressionistic effects e.g. at 9:02 and a quasi-symphonic atmosphere. This
is one of the most graphic of the movements of all the suites and reason
enough by itself to explore this music. In the final wild dance Tchaikovsky
reaches towards the Russian nationalist school with which he was not particularly
sympathetic. There are hints of Borodin and a crashing Cossack panache.
The last pair of suites are both in four movements and both end with a theme
The Third (almost three quarters of an hour long) is closer in mood to the
symphonies, particularly the fifth. This would be a good place to start if
you have enjoyed the symphonies and want to explore Tchaikovsky beyond the
obvious. The Elégie is a sombre fantasy of increasing tension
released in a long tune of an emotionally plush richness. The shadows and
sense of foreboding continue into the melodically splendid valse
mélancolique: classic Tchaikovsky. The strings razor sharp surge
and flow around the bubbling woodwind. The busily chiff-chaffing Scherzo
must surely have been known to Sibelius before he wrote his Kullervo
symphony. The long final theme and variations take up almost half of
the length of the suite and if you know any part of the suites you will recognise
this. The variations include a portentous moment when the dies irae
puts in an appearance. There is the obligatory fugue and a stamping nationalistic
dance transformed into a tremulous cor anglais serenade and back into an
intoxicatingly exciting shouted furiant. The solo violin intones a characterful
serenade - a young girl with mercurial spirit. After a call to arms from
an increasingly vehement brass the symphonic finale launches into a dervish
dance of Mediterranean abandon - drum, tambourine and cymbal punctuated.
There was a rather good LP recording by Boult during the 1970s but this has
not been reissued.
The fourth suite takes as its thematic 'food' a number of Mozart works, most
of them little known. The whole suite has a delicate strength. In this work
Tchaikovsky comes close to affectionate parody of Mozart and there is not
the slightest hint of anything other than a love for the master from whom
the Russian was separated by a century or more.
The recordings are refined though tending occasionally to an agreeable stridency.
They have been done in a reverberant acoustic. The recordings are more recent
(1985) than many of BMG's Melodiya series and if, for this misguided reason,
you have avoided other issues in this series then you no longer have the
The competition (which is not numerous) includes Antal Dorati's Polygram
set which I heard as LPs many years ago. Either set will provide satisfaction
but those preferring the more impassioned Russian approach and instrumental
style should lean towards the Svetlanov whose elastic and responsive pacing
makes these performances irresistible.
More respectable and useful notes by Sigrid Neef: English, German and French.
Full and precise details of premieres are given - usually a good sign as
also is an avoidance of arid technicalities. Good artwork and design as is
usual with this series. Space-economical single thickness CD case.
Rare and satisfying works which you are unlikely to hear in the concert hall.