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Boris TCHAIKOVSKY (1925 – 1996)
Sebastopol Symphony (1980) [34:44]
Music for Orchestra (1987) [21:36]
The Wind of Siberia (1984) [16:33]
Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra/Vladimir Fedoseyev
Recorded: no information available
CHANDOS CHAN 10299H [73:12]

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Record companies and God move in mysterious ways. Indeed, the ink of my recent reviews of discs of Tchaikovsky’s music (Hyperion CDA 67413 – 10/2004 and Northern Flowers NF/PMA 9918 – 12/2004) is hardly dry before here comes another one from another source. And, what’s more, we are offered three substantial works.

The Sebastopol Symphony is a large-scale single movement of considerable substance. Sebastopol, an important harbour on the Black Sea (now in Ukraine), endured two tragic periods, first in 1855 when it was besieged by English and French armies during the Crimean War and then in 1942 when it was occupied by German troops. The music sets out to evoke these and other aspects of Sebastopol’s history, without ever being really programmatic. This is a quite different piece of music than, say, Shostakovich’s so-called Leningrad Symphony. As is usual in Tchaikovsky’s music, this single movement structure falls into several sections travelling back and forth in time. This serves to make clear that Sebastopol was an important harbour through the recurrent “sea music” that opens the piece and keeps re-appearing, albeit with variations. The various sections are in turn lyrical and dramatic, sunny and dark-hued, nostalgic and realistic. The music is clearly from the composer’s full maturity and displays a really remarkable orchestral flair. It is characterised by clear orchestration and lighter textures than, say, the music of Shostakovich while avoiding sounding “light-ish” or overtly Neo-classical. The Sebastopol Symphony is a major achievement and a most welcome addition to the catalogue.

A number of pieces by Tchaikovsky are structured as suites made up of short episodes, seemingly unrelated. This can be heard in the Chamber Symphony and the Sinfonietta for Strings. This is evident too in Music for Orchestra, his penultimate orchestral score. In this piece the composer uses variation technique on a number of themes, so that the music acquires greater coherence than that of the Chamber Symphony, for example. The music is superbly scored, and one is constantly taken by surprise by unexpected, arresting instrumental combinations. Tchaikovsky’s fondness for the horn section is also clearly to be heard.

The tone poem The Wind of Siberia was dedicated to Vladimir Fedoseyev, who often championed Tchaikovsky’s music. Again, the music is not overtly picturesque or programmatic, although it vividly evokes the cold colours of the north through nicely judged orchestral touches. The music also has its dark side, for Tchaikovsky does not forget that Siberia also served as a prison for political and criminal exiles. The scoring includes a somewhat unusual wind section (two flutes, two alto flutes, two clarinets, two alto clarinets, four trumpets and four trombones) and a fairly large percussion complement featuring six timpani. Another impressive score.

Thanks to these three discs, I have come to regard Boris Tchaikovsky as a major, unjustly neglected composer whose music has a highly personal ring, sometimes looking back to that of his teacher Shostakovich, but nevertheless managing to keep his potentially all-pervasive influence at bay.

These recordings from the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra’s archives were made in the 1980s and are remarkably fine. Fedoseyev clearly believes in the music and conducts vital readings of these often impressive scores that definitely deserve wider currency. I certainly encourage Chandos to make further exploration into orchestra’s archives and into those of the Boris Tchaikovsky Society. It would be nice if a fine performance of the Symphony with harp (Tchaikovsky’s last orchestral score) and of the Cello Concerto (highly praised by none other than Rostropovich) could make their way onto disc.

This CD is well worth exploring. It sheds interesting light on a composer from the post-Shostakovich generation whose personal, well-crafted and never indifferent music has been widely overlooked.

Hubert Culot




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