Excepting the very early Two Poems by Mikhail Lermontov
, Four Poems by Josef Brodsky
composed in 1965 is Boris Tchaikovsky’s first song-cycle. In his early twenties, the future Nobel Prize winner Brodsky was accused of ‘parasitism’ (whatever that might mean) and became persona non grata
. The song-cycle was written for Galina Vishnevskaya who was to premiere it, but the event was cancelled. The work received its belated premiere in 1988. In the meantime, however, the composer recast it as Four Preludes for Chamber Orchestra
(1984), a recording of which is available on Northern Flowers NF/PMA 9918
. I reviewed that disc here some time ago. The four poems, however, had nothing in them that might have wronged or “endangered” the regime, allowing for a religious undertone. Neither was Tchaikovsky’s setting particularly radical. “In the vocal cycle I used mostly academic solutions for the last two numbers - and I don’t think that’s a sin”. In fact, these settings are pretty straightforward, though by no means lacking in subtlety.
for mezzo-soprano and viola is a late work that was left unfinished, since a third setting, War
ends abruptly after a few bars. The first song Far Off Amazon
is a brittle, at times bitter-sweet and uneasy Toccata whereas Homer
is mostly slow and has the character of a ballad, albeit one with some mild irony. The setting for mezzo and viola may at first seem somewhat unusual but Tchaikovsky’s resourceful handling of this combination is quite remarkable.
The String Trio
of 1955 is roughly contemporary with the Sinfonietta for Strings
(1953) and the First String Quartet
(1954). It is in three short, neatly differentiated movements. The first movement opens with an urgent, striding theme not unlike that opening the First String Quartet. The beautiful Andante is in sharp contrast both to the first movement but also to the concluding Allegretto - echoing the first movement - and rounding off this compact, eventful work with a slightly lighter touch.
Two Poems by Mikhail Lermontov
was composed when the composer was a 15-year old boy, but the music - for all its indebtedness to older models - is remarkably assured.
Two Pieces for Balalaika and Piano
is a fairly late work consisting of two contrasting miniatures, Joke
drawn from the film score Balzaminov’s Marriage
(available on Boheme Music CDBMR 908085
) and Landscape
, the latter an original composition. This unpretentious diptych is a delightful trifle although the music is far from easy to play.
The major item in this worthwhile release is the substantial song-cycle Lyrics of Pushkin
composed for Vishnevskaya who premiered it with Rostropovich. Later she recorded it with the composer and that performance is available on Melodiya MEL CD10 00944
; reviewed here a few years ago. The red thread of the Pushkin cycle is “the work of the poet, the noble solitude of the creative artist, the artist’s inner freedom and the artist’s creative efforts” (Pyotr Klimov). As in the Brodsky cycle, Tchaikovsky sticks to traditional methods while avoiding sounding as if they had been composed a century earlier. Tchaikovsky actually achieves a timeless sort of setting, neither radical nor reactionary. That is what makes Tchaikovsky’s voice so personal and distinctive. Lyrics of Pushkin
is one of Boris Tchaikovsky’s finest and most substantial song-cycles - the others being Signs of the Zodiac
(1974 available on Naxos 8.557727 reviewed here
) and The Last Spring
The quality of the music and the very fine performances make this well-filled release a must for all admirers. Boris Tchaikovsky’s music definitely deserves to be much better known. It is encouraging, too, to see brand new recordings such as these filling the gaps. More please.