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Anton ARENSKY (1861-1906)
Suite No. 1 in G minor (1885) [32:52]
Suite No. 3 (Variations) in C major [29:51]
Introduction to the opera Nal and Damajanti (1903) [6:44]
USSR Symphony Orchestra/Evgeny Svetlanov
rec. 1987. ADD
MELODIYA MEL CD 10 00148 [69:27]


Judging by the recording data in the heading above this album appears to be a reissue. The four-page sleeve-note has only one page in English with minimal information. I suspect it was first released on the Russian Melodiya label at that time for the Melody logo on this recording appears the same, to my memory.

Arensky’s melodious Suite No. 1 was written in 1885. Svetlanov delivers a performance that beguiles and excites. The opening movement ‘Variations on a Russian Theme’ (a song entitled ‘Having Waved With A Broom’) passes through introspective musings on folk-like material to martial elements à la Tchaikovsky to a stirring fugue. Svetlanov’s ‘Dance’, second movement, charms; it is a waltz - more Russian than Viennese - with a whimsical, rustic central section. The jolly ‘Scherzo’ is all headlong abandon, the woodwinds chuckle away and the strings gambol along merrily before a tender calm slows the merrymakers. The ‘Basso ostinato’ has a warm nostalgic glow while ‘March’ is a glorification delivered one imagines with tongue-in-cheek pomposity, certainly the woodwinds respond cheekily. The whole is quite delightful.

Arensky’s Suite No. 3’s nine variations are based on a meditative consolatory theme. The theme is first discussed between woodwinds and strings before progressing through variations characterised by; a light-hearted waltz - reminding me of the style of the English light music composer Eric Coates, then a sterner triumphal march, softening as it progresses towards old soldiers’ nostalgia (?), a quite enchanting music-box-like 18th century minuet, sparkling with celesta and pizzicato strings, a stately gavotte, a tripping, chattering, busy scherzo, a solemn and most dignified funeral march, a lovely dreamy nocturne with solo piano - somewhere between Chopin and Rachmaninov - and, finally, a colourful and celebratory polonaise.

Arensky’s opera, Nal and Damajanti was written in 1903 and staged at the Bolshoi Theatre one year later. The notes reveal nothing further. I suspect this was an opera that would appeal to families. The music glistens as it opens as though suggesting a world of magic, perhaps a wintry one. Soon a romantic melody surfaces sounding like the Suite No. 3 waltz and, strangely, something Eric Coates might have written. As the pace develops the fantasy continues and the Eric Coates similarities persist for a while - Coates’ Cinderella music, for instance - before the music becomes charged with foreboding, wild and cataclysmic. Arensky’s orchestration is interesting including glittering piano arpeggios.

Enchanting, exciting, tuneful music delivered in style.

Ian Lace


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