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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 entered the Moscow Conservatory in 1941, but the outbreak of the war put a stop to his studies 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 (from 1949 to 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 chronologically and stylistically 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. Tchaikovsky had to adjust to the prevailing political-cultural climate without compromising himself in writing music along the lines of the so-called Socialist Realism. He opted for another way out, as did Lutosławski in Poland, by composing folk-inflected music and by adopting a brand of Neo-classicism, although many characteristics of his music do not fit that mould. Although he found his musical path fairly early in his composing career, he often deviated from the all-too-easy ready-made Neo-classical idiom as the works recorded here make it clear. He resolutely rejected dodecaphony or serialism. He also used musical quotes in some of his works, such as the Second Symphony of 1967 with extracts lifted from Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Schumann. These caused some stir at that time.

The fine Sinfonietta for Strings, the earliest work here, might still be labelled as Neo-classical. The music harks back, curiously enough, to Bridge and Britten as well as to Shostakovich - which is less surprising. 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 still more apparent in the Chamber Symphony of 1967; a suite rather than a miniature symphony. The six movements are laid-out as a set 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. 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, 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 which is often characterised by understatement. Still more so, I think, in the Six Etudes for strings and organ; not the other way round, mind you. This is a work for strings with some support from an organ used quite discreetly throughout. There is no 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. It has been expertly and subtly orchestrated by Pyotr Klimov. The insert notes do not say much about this short piece, so it is hard to say whether it was meant to stand on its own or as part of a larger work. We are not told whether it has anything to do with Poe’s poem. 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 compromise. His honest and sincere music commands respect.

By the way Boris has no connection whatsoever with Pyotr Ilyich. In fact he is the uncle of the composer-pianist Alexander.

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

Hubert Culot

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