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Boris TCHAIKOVSKY (1925–1996)
Symphony No.1 (1947)a [32:17]
Suite The Murmuring Forest (1953)b [13:26]
Suite After the Ball (1952)b [16:54]
Volgograd Philharmonic Orchestra/Edward Serova;
Saratov Conservatory Symphony Orchestra/Kirill Ershovb
rec. Volgograd Central Concert Hall, June 2006 (Symphony No.1); Great Hall, Saratov Conservatory, June 2006 (Suites)
NAXOS 8.570195 [62:38]

Boris Tchaikovsky composed his First Symphony in 1947, at about the time of his graduation from the Moscow Conservatory, where Shostakovich was one of his teachers. Shostakovich was impressed by the symphony and recommended it to Mravinsky, who agreed to give the first performance. These were the dark Zhdanov years, which had ostracised Shostakovich as well as many other Russian composers. Anyone belonging to Shostakovich’s circle was also regarded with much suspicion. As a result, the first performance of the symphony took place in 1962 conducted by Kondrashin.
The First Symphony is traditionally laid-out, in four movements with the Scherzo placed second. The first movement, roughly in modified sonata-form, opens with a pensive tune played by the strings, that progressively expands generating new themes and variants. Some fragments will keep re-appearing, which helps keep the overall formal and thematic coherence of the whole. The first movement ends calmly and the animated Scherzo cuts-in in full contrast with the preceding music. This is lively and slightly ironic. A whimsical tune played by the clarinet is not unlike some material heard in the later Clarinet Concerto (1957). The third movement is a deeply-felt Largo unfolding without undue pathos. The final movement, actually a set of variations, which some may find inconclusive, is a typical Tchaikovsky product, in that the composer liked to end a work in a deceptively simple way. Some may understandably expect some sub-Shostakovich stuff; but even a cursory hearing will reveal a number of striking differences and many elements that will be regarded as typical Tchaikovsky fingerprints: clarity of thought, clarity and lightness of the scoring and – in the final movement – some childlike, though definitely not childish, innocence. The latter is a recurring feature in many of Tchaikovsky’s later works: the final section of Signs of the Zodiac (1974), the finale of the Chamber Symphony (1967) or the concluding song of the beautiful song cycle The Last Spring (1980). It is clear, though, that Tchaikovsky never rejected the Russian symphonic tradition, but that he could breathe fresh air into it. Similarly, he managed to keep the temptations of Neo-classicism at bay. Tchaikovsky’s First Symphony clearly reveals a real though personal symphonist which later works will only serve to confirm.
After leaving the Moscow Conservatory he had to find some way to make a living. He thus worked for the radio and also composed a number of film scores. Two of them, Aibolit-66 (1966) and Balzaminov’s Marriage (1964), are available on Boheme Music (CDBMR908085). While working for the radio he composed a number of incidental scores for radio dramas. He had a particular fondness for his music for Korolenko’s play The Murmuring Forest (1953), the score of which was considered lost, much to the composer’s dismay. However, it turned up in the archives of the Moscow Radio Library and the suite heard here has been arranged from that material. In 1952 he composed some incidental music for Leo Tolstoy’s play After the Ball. Writing such music provided him with many opportunities to enlarge his palette. The music for After the Ball has its share of affectionate parody and tongue-in-cheek irony, without ever overlooking the darker moments of the play. The score consists of a number of dance tunes: a Waltz that might have been written by his namesake; but also some more personal music, such as in March [track 15], that has a fife-and-drum tune redolent of the opening of Prokofiev’s Lieutenant KijÚ. Tchaikovsky, however, counterpoints it with an ominous modal melody, with strongly expressive results. The Murmuring Forest is actually much finer and certainly more personal. In this Tchaikovsky proves himself a brilliant illustrator; and the score abounds in felicitous touches: the atmospheric opening of the first movement [track 5] and its varied restatement in the final section [track 9].
These early works of Tchaikovsky are really well served by excellent performances that make the best of them. The First Symphony stands out as an accomplished work of substance. This impressive piece reveals a serious, sincere composer, whose music succeeds in being personal, without either rejecting tradition or adopting a more modernistic stance, while overtly eschewing Socialistic Realism. I hope that this, the second Naxos disc devoted to Tchaikovsky’s music (concertos on 8.557727), will soon be followed by many more. I particularly look forward to hearing his six string quartets.
Hubert Culot


Boris Tchaikovsky’s symphonies on discs:
Symphony No.2 and Symphony with Harp (1993) Relief CR991080
Sebastopol Symphony (1980) Chandos CHAN 10299H


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