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Phoenix Records

Mikhail BRONNER (b.1958?)
Violin Concerto Lonely Voice (1992) [23:39]
Alexander TCHAIKOVSKY (b.1946)

Double Concerto Distant Dreams of Childhood for violin, viola and orchestra (1988) [29:31]
Peteris VASKS (b.1946)

Musica Dolorosa (1983) [13:28]
Levon Ambartsumian (violin)
Guennadi Freidine (viola)
ARC Chamber Orchestra/Levon Ambartsumian
Bolshoi Theatre Orchestra/Pavel Sorokin
rec. no dates. Bolshoi Hall, Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory; Hugh Hodgson Hall, Georgia Performing Arts Center, Athens, Georgia, USA. DDD
PHOENIX PHCD159 [66:38]


This is the second Phoenix disc to look to the music of Vasks and Mikhail Bronner. The last disc (Phoenix PHCD 153 also reviewed here included violin concertos by Arutiunian (Armenia 88), Vasks Distant Light and Bronner Heaven's Gates. Ambartsumian was the leading light for that disc also.

Phoenix's latest arrival replaced Arutiunian. with Tchaikovsky, not Peter Ilyich, not André (remember him - he was a concert pianist and a composer!), not Boris but Alexander. Once again he is no relation of the famous Tchaikovsky .....

Mikhail Bronner graduated from the Moscow Conservatory having studied with Tikhon Khrennikov. His intense Lonely Voice concerto stands in the triangle between the Walton, Frankel and Schuman concertos. It moves from suspenseful lyricism through moments of plangent atmospheric tension to hammered out apocalyptic violence and back to ellipitical Bergian shadowed singing. This does not sound like a chamber orchestra. The tortured romantic credentials of this work are well worth checking out.

Alexander Tchaikovsky is a Muscovite composer who studied at that city’s Conservatory with Heinrich Neuhaus and Tikhon Khrennikov, He has composed extensively and there are three symphonies, two piano concertos, operas, ballets (one based on the story of the Battleship Potemkin), three viola concertos (one written for Yuri Bashmet) and two violin concertos amongst many other pieces. The Double Concerto is part of a tragic trilogy. To complete the symmetry the other two components of the trilogy are concertos: one for violin; the other for viola. The concerto is inspired by the irretrievable passing of childhood - that land of lost content and by Nikita Mikhailov’s film Several Days from the Life of Oblomov (after Turgenev). Unlike the Bronner this work is in three movements but like Bronner the language adopted is full of tension both singing and buzzing; try the manic Presto. It also has an undeniable haunted lyricism that seems to sing under threat and with constant and piercing pangs of melancholy. The composer ends the piece most imaginatively with a slender quiet microtonal slide - a sleep and a forgetting.

This is very apt as the final piece is Peteris VasksMusica Dolorosa for string orchestra. Clearly you will not be buying this disc for light-hearted amusement because as the Latvian composer says - ‘this is my most tragic opus where there is no optimism, no hope ... only pain’. As with all three works on this disc this is serious music concerned with the grand emotions and in this case with grave beauty. Musica Dolorosa is dedicated to the memory of the composer’s sister and was completed shortly before her death. The sustained lyrical string writing carries many original touches threaded among the constant activity of a string orchestra at prayer. One of his hallmarks are those microtonal swervings and slidings.

The notes are good even if they still fail to provide the date and country of birth for Bronner.

Serious Baltic and Russian music that is warmly recorded, imagined and played. Challenging but firmly tonal-melodic.

Rob Barnett

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