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Boris TCHAIKOVSKY (1925 – 1996)
Sinfonietta (1953)
Chamber Symphony (1967)
Six Etudes (1976)a
Prelude The Bells (1996)
Ludmilla Golub (organ)a
Musica Viva Chamber Orchestra/ Alexander Rudin
Recorded: Small Hall, Moscow Conservatory (Six Etudes) and Mosfilm Ton-Studios, Moscow, October 2003, December 2003 and January 2004
HYPERION CDA 67413 [69:49]

Born in 1925, Boris Tchaikovsky (no connection whatsoever with Pyotr Ilyich, but the uncle of the composer-pianist Alexander) entered the Moscow Conservatory in 1941. The outbreak of the war put a stop to his studies which were resumed in 1944. There he studied composition with Shebalin, Shostakovich and Myaskovsky as well as piano with Lev Oborin. After graduation he did some piano teaching and was later an editor at a radio station (1949-1952), composing in his spare time. His fairly sizeable output includes four symphonies, six string quartets composed between 1954 and 1976, four concertos (clarinet, 1957; cello, 1964; violin, 1969 and piano, 1971) as well as a number of film scores and of incidental music. He died in 1996. He thus belongs to the generation situated between that of Shostakovich and that of Denisov, Schnittke, Gubaidulina and Silvestrov. In 1948, Shostakovich and many of his colleagues were accused of "Formalism", whatever this may mean, so that Tchaikovsky had to adjust to the prevailing political-cultural climate, without compromising himself in writing music along the lines of so-called Socialist Realism. He opted for another way out, as did Lutosławski in Poland, by composing folk-inflected music and by adopting Neo-classicism, although many characteristics of his music do not really fit into that mould. Although he seemed to have found his musical path fairly early in his composing career, he often deviated from the all-too-easy ready-made Neo-classical idiom. The works recorded here make that absolutely clear. He resolutely rejected dodecaphony or serialism. He also used musical quotes in some of his works, such as in the Second Symphony of 1967 with quotations from Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Schumann. The symphony caused quite a stir at the time.

The fine Sinfonietta for Strings, the earliest work here, might still be labelled as Neo-classical, the music harking back to Bridge and Britten as well as to Shostakovich. It is superbly written for strings, quite attractive and richly melodic. However, some harmonic side-steps may already be spotted here and there. Some unexpected harmonic twists are more in evidence in the Chamber Symphony of 1967, a suite rather than a miniature symphony. The six movements are laid-out as a sets of etudes or sketches rather than as a tightly argued symphonic whole. The second (Unison), third (Chorale music) and fourth (Interlude) movements are fairly short, whereas the other movements are more developed. The fifth movement (March motifs) is reminiscent of Shostakovich, particularly because of the tongue-in-cheek working out of the basic material and of some dissonant, almost cluster-like textures. The final movement (Serenade) opens deceptively enough, as an innocuous serenade, but the easy-going mood of this section is then contradicted by a more animated section. Both sections are repeated with some variations, and the movement ends with a final varied restatement of the opening section. The whole work is also a good example of Tchaikovsky’s musical thinking often characterised by understatement. Still more so, I think, in the Six Etudes for strings and organ and not the other way round, mind you. This is actually a work for strings with some support from the organ that is used quite discretely throughout, without any real attempt at developing the organ part. This often very beautiful work is also – on the whole – rather enigmatic, but not to the same extent as the late Prelude "The Bells" left in short score at the time of the composer’s death and expertly and subtly orchestrated by Pyotr Klimov. The insert notes do not say much about this short piece, so that it is hard to say whether it was meant to stand on its own or whether it was to be part of a larger work, whether it has something to do with Poe’s poem or not. Anyway, it beautifully rounds-off this superb release devoted to a most distinguished composer who, in politically difficult times, managed to remain true to himself without compromising, and whose honest and sincere music commands respect.

These excellent, meticulously prepared readings are warmly recorded, and the production is again up to Hyperion’s best. Recommended.

Hubert Culot

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