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Boris TCHAIKOVSKY (1925-1996)
Cello Sonata in E minor (1957)a [23:18]
Lyrics of Pushkin (1972)b [22:38]
Partita for Cello and Ensemble (1966)c [24:24]
Mstislav Rostropovich (cello)ac; Galina Vishnevskaya (soprano)b; Boris Tchaikovsky (pianoab, harpsichordc)
rec. 1963 (Cello Sonata), 1967 (Partita) and 1973 (Lyrics of Pushkin)
MELODIYA MEL CD 10 00944  [76:41]

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Tchaikovsky’s substantial Cello Sonata in E minor, dedicated to Weinberg, is a work from the composer’s early maturity, but already displays considerable formal and instrumental mastery. It is nevertheless fairly traditional in its aims and means, at least by mid-20th century standards. The music is still indebted to Prokofiev and Shostakovich, but there is not a single trace of blunt imitation, whereas Tchaikovsky’s innate lyricism is already in evidence. Structurally, however, the Cello Sonata keeps clear of traditional models. The first movement Allegro non troppo, in free sonata form, is followed by a weighty slow movement that at times recalls the Nocturne of Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto. The third and final movement is another slow Andante concluding the piece in a bittersweet, autumnal mood.

Although he somewhat broadened his expressive palette later in his composing life, Tchaikovsky never really adopted a serial technique. From this point of view, the Partita stands out in his output as one of his rare forays into twelve-tone music. The Partita is scored for an unusual instrumental combination: piano (played here by Alexander Dedyukhin), harpsichord (played by the composer), electric guitar and two percussionists. It is cast as a suite of six movements, all but the final one being short contrasted character studies. In the first movement Twelve Notes, the composer plays games with twelve-tone music. In a deliberately ironic way the cello indifferently spells out the chromatic scale, first upwards, then downwards, each time with tongue-in-cheek punctuation from the piano and the harpsichord. The music continues in much the same vein, never taking itself too seriously. The following movements (Toccata I , Canon, Toccata II and III) are short etudes. Tchaikovsky, however, cannot withhold his lyrical nature for too long, and the Partita ends with a long, slow, nocturnal movement of great beauty. This is in spite of a brief but quickly silenced attempt to disrupt the cello’s reverie.

Lyrics of Pushkin is the second song cycle written for Vishnevskaya. The first one Four Poems by Jospeh Brodsky (1965) was never performed publicly; the Nobel Prize winning poet being persona non grata in the former Soviet Union at that time. They were recycled as Four Preludes for Chamber Orchestra (1984) available on Northern Flowers NF/PMA 9918 reviewed here some time ago. Dealing with Pushkin’s verse, the composer felt that he had to use simple, direct language in which melody is prominent, but which would nevertheless keep clear of well-worn “domestic romance lyrics” (the composer’s words) while retaining the essential straightforwardness of the words and the various moods they suggest. The simplicity of these settings results from the composer’s deep immersion in Pushkin’s poetic world. The theme of the Poet and of poetic creation is central to the poems chosen by Tchaikovsky, often envisaged from a rather disillusioned point of view, as in the fourth song To the Poet (“Poet, although they love you, don’t feel proud. In just a moment, the praise is washed away”). One easily realises what such words might have meant to Russian composers during the Soviet era! Lyrics of Pushkin is a beautiful song-cycle and a great piece of music, in which the composer shows himself the heir of the greatest Russian song-writer, Mussorgsky. Vishnevskaya sings most beautifully throughout, with a remarkable tonal and expressive variety, attentive to the expressive power of both words and music. As far as I am concerned, this is one of the finest works by Tchaikovsky that I have heard so far, and the gem amongst this collection.

These performances, all recorded live, come from the Boris Tchaikovsky Society’s archives; and are inevitably of varying sound quality. They still sound good allowing for the distraction of the odd cough or stage noise. There is nothing serious enough to deter anyone from enjoying this most interesting release that sheds further light on this endearing composer’s achievement.

Hubert Culot




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