> Tchaikovsky - Dvorak: Souvenir de Florence [JP]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 - 1893)
Souvenir de Florence, Op. 70 - (1892)
Antonin DVORÁK (1841 - 1904)
String Sextet in A, Op. 48 – (1878)
Sarah Chang, Bernhard Hartog (violins), Wolfram Christ, Tanya Christ (violas), Georg Faust, Olaf Maninger (’cellos).
recorded in Teldex Studios, Berlin, March 2001. DDD
EMI CLASSICS 5 57243-2 [67.48]


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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!!

John Phillips

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