Serenade in C, op.48 (1880) [28:00] Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841–1904)
Serenade in E, op.22 (1875) [28:04] Edward ELGAR (1857–1934)
Serenade in E minor, op.20 (1892) [11:30]
Silesian Chamber Orchestra/Jan
rec. Silesian Philharmonic Concert Hall, Katowice, June 2006 DUX 0560 [67:34]
The Silesian Chamber
Orchestra was formed in 1981, bringing together graduates of
the Katowice Music Academy, by Jan Wincenty Hawel (rector of
the Music Academy from 1981/1986 and 1990/1996) who conducted
it until he handed over the helm to Massimiliano Caldi in 2006.
Therefore this recording must be one of the last performances
he gave with his orchestra. And what a good orchestra it is!
A small band - to judge from the photograph in the booklet
it probably consists of four first and for second violins, three
violas, three cellos and two basses - with a beautiful sound,
which has been beautifully recorded.
The three works
presented here were written within the short span of 17 years
- not at the end of the 19th and beginning of the
20th centuries as the booklet tells us - and what
a variety of styles and expression we are offered.
The Serenade by
Tchaikovsky is the biggest in terms of musical substance. It’s
a fine piece – made all the better by not being filled with
Tchaikovsky’s often over-the-top angst – which is delightful
to listen to, easy-going and a pleasure to spend time with.
Unfortunately, Hawel rushes the fast sections of the outer movements
leaving one feeling rather breathless, the middle movements,
by contrast, being perfectly paced. I also had the feeling of
a lack of a full bass in the first movement slow introduction
and coda – but then we’re used to hearing this work played by
a symphony orchestra string section which, obviously, being
larger makes a fuller impression.
The other two works
on the disk fare better. The Dvořák Serenade is
truly delicious, with perfect tempi, a sense of light and shade
- which can go missing in a bigger performance - and a real
feel of what the original serenades were intended for – entertainment
music. This isn’t a work which reaches any deep emotions and
Hawel doesn’t go looking for any profound meaning behind the
notes he simply lets his players give of their best and play
the notes. It’s fantastic.
is equally delightful and Hawel does something which I’ve always
thought possible – he convinces me that the slow movement is
actually the forerunner of the great slow movements in the Symphonies so
well does he handle the smaller scale of the music whilst keeping
in mind a bigger concept. The small orchestra suits the music
well – indeed, I once heard it played, at a friend’s funeral,
by just nine players and it was just as beautiful what that
I must make mention
of the notes in the booklet which with regard to the Tchaikovsky
and Dvořák works are fine, but it would appear that Agnieszka
Jez has never heard the Elgar work nor knows much about the
composer. She claims that the Serenade was written when
the composer’s career “… had reached its peak.” As it was written
seven years before the Enigma and Gerontius and
16 and 18 years, respectively, before the two Symphonies this
is seriously incorrect. Another curious statement is “… Elgar
thoroughly revised most of his earlier pieces, which in his
view were not mature enough. Among a select group of compositions
which passed the composer’s ‘vetting’ procedure was an obscure
serenade dating from the composer’s youthful period. Despite
numerous changes and improvements, the Serenade in E minor retained
the freshness of the original.” Now this is something which
will have all Elgarians (myself included) salivating. The news
that the Serenade we know and love has a predecessor
which, although not quite as good as the present work but which
is as fresh (and no doubt as delightful) as newer work is tantalising.
I went to Jerrold Northrop Moore’s Edward Elgar - A Creative
Life (Oxford University Press, 1984) for some confirmation
and I am sorry to have to disappoint you but this simply isn’t
so. The details are that on 7 May 1888, the Revd. Vine Hall
conducted Three Sketches for String Orchestra at a concert
of the Worcester Musical Union. Elgar wrote, “I have … written … three
movements for string orchestra, classical Style … I like ’em!” Moore
tells us that “The three movements (of the Serenade, op.20) may
have been based (my emphasis) on the sketches (from 1888).” As
I’ve never heard of any modern performance of the Sketches,
nor have I read any mention of the manuscript of the work might
I suggest that this information is spurious at best. Perhaps
Ms Jez is party to information which has been missed by modern
scholarship – if only that were so.
This is a fabulous
disk. The playing is superb, the recording smooth and clear,
made in a good acoustic and the interpretations - apart from
my reservations about the tempi in the Tchaikovsky - are most
satisfying. This would be a welcome addition to any collection.
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