Rodion Schedrin is an interesting composer, a member
of the generation after Shostakovich. His music is never dull: he has
an assured technique, an ear for orchestral effect and colour, and a
particularly sharp and pointed wit. Many of these attributes are those
which we would readily link with his illustrious predecessor.
Shchedrin is always likely to be best known for his
remarkable ballet adaptation of Bizet's Carmen, scored for strings and
percussion with astonishing imagination. It really does breathe new
life into the music, and should be viewed as a creative act of homage
rather than merely an arrangement. The music has such inventiveness
and energy that it has started making an international impression as
a concert suite, and rightly so. Therefore a recording with excellent
sound, as heard here, will give much pleasure to the listener away from
Pletnev and his brilliant orchestra bring a vibrant
intensity to their performance, which has a real dramatic sweep. Although
this is in no way a substitute for Bizet's original - how could it be?
- it is worth hearing in its own right.
The two concertos of orchestra are very different.
The first of them, entitled 'Naughty Limericks', is a lively tour-de-force,
with pounding jazzy percussion which sweeps all before it. This is music
of great élan which makes a direct impression at first hearing.
Not everyone will necessarily like it, but those who warm to zany orchestral
experiences will love it. What's wrong with vulgarity in music, anyway?
The other Concerto, known as 'The Chimes', is altogether
different. Here the expression is darker, as the initial phase of slow
moving atmospheric chords immediately tells us. Then the development
is powerfully expressive and exploratory, building also a rhythmic intensity
founded upon virtuoso orchestral playing. The bell sounds implicit in
the title come through 'in clear' from time to time, as the composer
explained in the programme note he wrote for the New York premiere in
1968: 'Throughout Russian history, chimes have always been important
to our people. The chimes of ancient Russia represent a very particular
feature of old Russian civilisation.' This work was written for Leonard
Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic: no wonder orchestral virtuosity
combines with a nationalist style.
With richly colourful sound, these compelling works
will give much pleasure to those who enjoy the wider range of possibilities
modern music offers. For those of more timid tastes, the experience
will be vibrant and direct.