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If it’s the Czech works you’re after, do not hesitate

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

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Peter TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Suite No. 3 in G, Op.55 (1974) [39:21]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Divertimento
Ballet Suite from Le Baiser de la fée, (1942/1971) [24:10]
Russian National Orchestra/Vladimir Jurowski.
rec. DZZ Studio, Moscow, October 2004. DDD
PENTATONE PTC 5186 061 SACD [64:02]
 

This release by Pentatone is of more familiar repertoire and is played by an ensemble, which has been responsible for many fine recordings of Russian repertoire under its conductor-in-chief, Mikhail Pletnev. I have recently criticised a few discs of Russian repertoire because of lacklustre performances, but here there are absolutely no concerns on that count. Moreover, the disc is superbly recorded and issued in SACD format for those of us who are supporters of this system. It’s a hybrid disc that can also be played on standard players.

Tchaikovsky wrote four orchestral suites, one after the other, between the fourth and fifth symphonies. They have been commented upon as being too lightweight to be symphonies and too serious to be taken as occasional works. To arrive at judgement is to miss the point, as all four suites demonstrate once again, if it were actually needed, how superb a lyricist Tchaikovsky was, and how expertly he can build and follow through with an exciting climax. The finale of the third suite is an excellent example. After three high class movements the composer comes up with a relatively simple theme, which he then proceeds to display in various guises at different emotional levels. The final variation, almost as long as what has gone before it, builds to a tremendous climax, orchestrated superbly. The emotions are kept well under control until the very end, when all hell is let loose for us to revel in and enjoy. The last chord attracts the only tiny criticism I can level at this very fine performance: the conductor for some inexplicable reason sees fit to apply both a drawing out, and a diminuendo of this last chord. In my opinion this drains some of the drama from the work. The orchestra plays superbly with all sections excelling in the composer’s superb writing.

Initially the second work on the disc seemed strange to me. Upon listening to it I was completely won over. Here we encounter a composer of a completely different era and style writing for dancers in the style of Tchaikovsky; one of Stravinsky’s favourite composers. Stravinsky wrote: “A child is marked at birth by the kiss of a fairy; thus she separates it from her mother. Twenty years later, as the young man is experiencing the moment of his greatest happiness, she again gives him the kiss of fate and thus removes him from his earthly existence, in order to keep him forever in the greatest bliss.”

To develop the score of the Divertimento, Stravinsky took piano pieces and songs from Tchaikovsky’s catalogue and wove these into a superb example of Stravinsky’s artistry. In addition this seamless stitching of various short works into a dramatic entity produces a work capable of being danced to and being be enjoyed by all. There are few of Stravinsky’s spiky dissonances in attendance, and the work, like its companion, is pure delight from start to finish.

The Russian National Orchestra, under its Principal Guest Conductor makes a wonderful job of these two colourful and tuneful works. I recommend it unreservedly.

John Phillips

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