The overtures and dance music found here
are interesting since the pieces are taken from Tchaikovsky’s
lesser-known operas; he wrote twelve in total. However,
the sound of this music is more akin to that robust Russian
style favoured by the ‘Big Five’ with dances of heavy construction
and somewhat remote from the familiar gentleness found
in Tchaikovsky’s ballet music.
A welcome inclusion is the reconstruction
of the symphonic poem, Fatum, even though
it does not relate to any of the operas. The music was
destroyed by Tchaikovsky in 1869, following criticism by
Balakirev who conducted its first performance; yet was
reassembled after Tchaikovsky’s death. It is a charming
piece with an endearing romantic theme. It contrasts delicate
Germanic decoration with the ‘fate’ motifs’ of his last
three symphonies. It is suggested that it has the characteristics
of a Liszt rhapsody, and I agree. Here the nuances are
sensitively handled by Kuchar.
The opera, Voyevoda, was
destroyed by the composer after its meagre five performances,
though apparently he utilized some of its material for
later operas. The overture here assembles strong Russian
themes with a colour that symbolizes national identity.
A rather flaccid hymn-like opening horn passage tends to
become rather repetitious with endless variations, despite
interesting undercurrents of activity. In places you could
be forgiven for thinking you were listening to Mussorgsky.
Eventually this descends into a dreamy, yet continually
moving, section. Although the notes don’t say, The
Oprichnik dances were recycled from Voyevoda six
years later. I find that a short passage in the overture
anticipates one of the dance themes, complete with similar
Best known is The Maid of Orleans which
adopts some Western traits, especially the descriptive
Entr’acte. Stirring opening fanfares, that later reappear,
move us to an emotional poetic section with a hint of Swan
Lake and a surprise ending. The dances are robustly
written, the Bohemian one having broken rhythms that do
not aid the imagination.
Cherevichki (The Slippers) is
Tchaikovsky’s only comic
opera, and concerns the village antics of the Devil. It
must be said that there seems hardly any material resembling
true comedy and to me the Russian dance - written in a
minor key - is uninspired. Much better is the well flavoured
and more uplifting Cossack dance.
The Enchantress introduction is atmospheric
with tremolo strings punctuated with heavy percussion chords
before breaking into a majestic final section that sets
the scene for Act I.
Again the dance is robust and strongly
Russian in character although carrying some degree of monotony.
In contrast the vivacious Mazeppa Gopak
is skilfully written with bright and generous colour, as
well as engaging rhythms.
The National Symphony Orchestra of Urkraine
is first class and truly at home with this music. There
is particularly excellent playing in the wind sections
and Kuchar’s lively pace holds one’s attention. Informative
notes are provided in English and German.