In the past, I have always been somewhat suspicious of one
celebrity artist / chamber group recordings as it often seems that it
is a very efficient way to get additional sales for the celebrity artist.
Here we have a different situation with the chamber group being all present
or past members of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, and as such artists
in their own right who have played together over the years. To this group
is added one of the finest young current violinists who is still making
a name for herself.
We have recorded here
two masterpieces of the sextet format by Tchaikovsky and Dvořák.
The former has been very lucky on disc with other great recordings in
place such as by Rostropovitch and the Borodin Quartet etc. Competition
is very fierce, but I would suggest that this recording should go to
the head of the list, particularly if you like the coupling.
The advantage here is that most of the players have
at one time or other been soloists in their own right and so it is more
a meeting of like minds rather than a soloist and five others.
The Souvenir de Florence was written just after Tchaikovsky
had spent three months in Florence, writing "The Queen of Spades"
and when it was finished, the composer was delighted with it. He felt
that the sextet format was a wonderful combination of instruments, in
contrast with the beliefs of most other composers of the time, who believed
that the format was neither string quartet nor string orchestra although
it had aspirations in both directions.
The work opens immediately with great panache, and
the current artists attack the notes with great gusto, giving a movement
of great power. The slow movement which follows is played with great
tenderness, leaving plenty of spirited playing to be used up in the
last two movements. One would never guess that the group has an internationally
famous violinist at the head, so well integrated are all of the players.
Dvořák’s Sextet had
a mixture of styles, being influenced by a pair of great works in this
format, the two sextets of Brahms, plus the recently released Slavonic
Dances, where Dvořák immersed himself in Czech folk music. The
first movement is a very impressive large scale, almost symphonic
approach to the form, making it more like the string symphony rather
than a chamber work.
The second movement is in Dumka form, a Ukranian folk
structure moving from quiet contemplation to a rousing ending. The third
movement is a furiant, which is where the Slavonic Dances influence
is clear. The finale is in the form of a series of variations, which
move again like the Dumka, from introspection to wildly abandoned conclusion.
Allied to the superb playing, so well integrated that
it is sometimes unbearably lovely in a very sympathetic acoustic with
superb recording quality, this disc is a real winner. EMI have provided
a good set of notes and a tasteful cover which places all of the artists
at the same level, which it is how it should be, given the performances
recorded here. Marvellous!!