> TCHAIKOVSKY Souvenir de Florence [TH] : Classical Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Souvenir de Florence Op.70 (1890-92)
Serenade for Strings Op.48 (1881)
The Irish Chamber Orchestra/Fionnula Hunt
Recorded at the University Concert Hall, Limerick, c.1999
BLACK BOX BBM 3004 [63.46]


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There are surprisingly few rivals to this most logical of couplings. The main one undoubtedly comes from the ubiquitous Naxos label, and very good it is too. It features the Vienna Chamber Orchestra under the baton, rather interestingly, of veteran American pianist Philippe Entremont, and it garnered many positive reviews on its release in 1991. This Black Box version makes for a fascinating comparison, bringing out, as it does, subtly different aspects of Tchaikovsky’s delectable and heart-warming scores.

It is a complete mystery why the full string arrangement of Souvenir de Florence does not have a more central place in the repertoire. It is mature Tchaikovsky, which means an abundance of melody, beautifully structured individual movements and superb scoring. Fionnula Hunt and her excellent Irish players tend to emphasise the warmth and expressive nature of the music, which is entirely appropriate and valid. Entremont goes for romantic ardour and cut-and-thrust dash, which is equally effective. Thus the opening on the Naxos disc is full of captivating bounce and vigour, tending to make the Irish performance sound a little under powered at first. However, Hunt has a more relaxed, persuasive way with the glorious second theme, and the whole movement is allowed to unfold at a natural, unforced pace. That is not to suggest a lack of vigour or energy, it is just gauged slightly differently. The adagio cantabile is particularly notable for some very fine, poetic solo playing from the violin and cello principals of the Irish orchestra, and the marvellously inventive finale is hugely enjoyable for its lightness of touch and infectious high spirits.

The oft-recorded Serenade is an equally effective interpretation, and here I actually prefer Hunt’s slightly more flexible phrasing and lighter rhythmic pointing. The famous second movement waltz is played with much elegance and grace, and the haunting third movement is as captivating as I have heard. Entremont’s finale has a degree more Tchaikovskian swagger, but Hunt also pulls out the stops here for an exhilarating conclusion. Both orchestras are very polished, the Vienna forces perhaps having a degree more body and weight, though the Irish band are extremely refined.

Both recordings are exemplary, the Naxos sound being slightly more spacious but the Black Box ultimately being, at least to my ears, marginally better balanced and effective overall. There really isn’t much to choose here; the Naxos has its famously low price and conventional booklet note, whereas we are encouraged by Black Box to download information appropriately, the sleeve note being just a couple of paragraphs. Ah well, you pays your money…

Tony Haywood



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Souvenir de Florence

Pezzo in forma di sonatina

Serenade in C for String Orchestra
Allegro con spirito
Adagio Cantabile
Allegro moderato
Allegro Vivace

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