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Boris TCHAIKOVSKY (1925-1996)
Fantasia on Russian Folk Themes (1950) [16:31]
Sinfonietta for string orchestra (1953) [18:33]
Capriccio on English Themes (1954) [8:29]
Slavonic Rhapsody (1951) [18:28]
Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra/Alexander Gauk
Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra/Samuil Samosud (rhapsody)
rec. 1952-57
Experience Classicsonline

This is an engaging slice of youthful Boris Tchaikovsky – works written between the ages of twenty-five and twenty-nine and played by contemporary champions of his music. Nothing here is especially serious-minded but it’s all crafted and orchestrated with skill and projects youthful, unashamed high spirits. Certainly nothing would have raised the hackles of the then arbiters of cultural taste.
The Fantasia on Russian Folk Themes is the earliest of the works here, written in 1950. Not surprisingly the shadow that looms most obviously is that of his teacher, Miaskovsky, whose noble patina surely haunts the opening melody, suffusing it with the greatest lyricism and seriousness of utterance – rich, burnished, glorious. Thankfully it’s mobile too so there is no suggestion of stodginess and with one of Miaskovsky’s greatest proselytisers on the rostrum, Alexander Gauk, things are in the safest of hands. Gauk also gave the premiere of this work so there is an authentic whiff about it. Scherzo vitality follows, along with powerfully building brassy climaxes and scurrying strings, just kept on the rails, along with more reflective slower material. As one would expect it’s all quite conventionally set out  - though there are Sibelian moments too, as well, that arrest the attention (the Fifth Symphony, possibly, an influence). The climax is bold, brassy, raw and exciting – and that’s just how Gauk and the orchestra play it.
Of the works here though surely the finest is the Sinfonietta for string orchestra, something that really should have a toehold on the international repertoire, if there were any justice. It has great clarity of expression and is richly lyrically rewarding – not to mention beautifully distributed thematically. Its mellifluous generosity is laced with fairly standard devices – such as pizzicato incidents – but they are always used with great discretion and wit. There is a charmer of a Waltz and a noble Variations third movement – when the themes pass to the double basses the sound is fabulously sonorous and enfolding. String distribution is splendid throughout, top to bottom, like a Bulgarian choir and you really do need a saturnine, Stygian-black bass section to do the work justice. Vital and questing the Rondo finale ends this excitingly and deftly. Once again Gauk does the honours. He wasn’t always the subtlest of conductors but when he was on form – which was more often than detractors say - he really did bring home the bacon.
The 1954 Capriccio on English Themes is none too serious and Scots will note geographical inexactitude in the work’s title. But for eight minutes this is a whimsical diversion, blaringly extrovert and jovial; perky and pawky alternately and laced with folkloric scuttles.
Finally there is the Slavonic Rhapsody dating from 1951 and given in this performance by a more underrated and lesser-known conductor, the excellent Samuil Samosud, directing the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra.  This takes Bulgarian, Polish and Czech themes in succession. The opening Adagio brings us a sonorous, powerful, sinewy-romantic peak of string efflorescence that still retains its Bulgar qualities. The light wind-led themes of the Polish movement are good humoured and Scherzo-refined whilst the Czech movement opens with an alto flute and gradually sweeps along – tuneful, and effusive. It’s a pleasing work, generously performed.
In conclusion then; delightfully open-hearted music and music making. Lyricism and warmth meet their match in sometimes rawly recorded (of course) but always galvanising performances.
Jonathan Woolf
Boris Tchaikovsky resource page (includes review index)


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