Boris TISCHENKO (b. 1939)

Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 9 (1959) [25:33]
Concerto for Cello, Seventeen Wind Instruments, Percussion and Harmonium, Op. 23 (1963) [26:20]
Soundtrack to the Motion Picture Suzdal (1964) [12:07]
Viktor Liberman (violin); Mstislav Rostropovich (cello); Valentina Kozyreva (soprano); Anatoly Manukhov (tenor)
Leningrad Chamber Orchestra/Edward Serov (Violin Concerto); Members of the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra/ Igor Blazhkov (Cello Concerto); Kirov Opera Chamber Orchestra/Igor Blazhkov (Suzdal)

rec. St. Petersburg Recording Studio, 1977 (Violin Concerto); 1966 (Cello Concerto); 1967 (Suzdal)
Boris Tischenko studied at the Leningrad Conservatory with, amongst others, Galina Ustvolskaya. After graduation he pursued further studies with Shostakovich. Now over seventy, the CD booklet nonetheless informs us that he is currently Professor of Composition at the same conservatory where he was himself a student. This disc contains three of his early works.
The Violin Concerto No. 1 dates from 1959, when the composer was still a student, and seems to have been revised in 1964. It is a strikingly original and individual work, and not only because of the composer’s age. It opens with a long passage for solo violin. Most of the very informative notes accompanying this disc, signed Andrey Denisov, have been translated into English by Sergey Suslov. My heart goes out to him, and I include the following quote because the description is detailed and helpful, but also to give the flavour of the notes themselves. “Its calm sound combines cordial lyricism and tangible inner energy. The woodwinds take up one of the theme’s tunes, and suddenly an acute knock is heard after a brief stop. Awkward and unexpected moves, whimsical rhythms, and rash soars of the winds’ passages destroy the idyll of the concerto’s outset in a wink.” Quite so. The acute knocks and whimsical rhythms are characterised by a kind of violent orchestral writing where fragments of themes and rhythms are tossed from one instrument to another. The second movement is a rapid scherzo during which, after a couple of minutes, the composer seems to forget he is writing a violin concerto and leaves it to the orchestra alone to build the music to a massive and dramatic climax. A percussion passage has quite definite rock overtones to it, and this leads to a long, mostly unaccompanied cadenza. The finale begins in an atmosphere of rather sad calm, but becomes more violent and dramatic later. The composer reserves his most beautiful and original passage for the end, tender and resigned with some dissonant but surprisingly affecting double stopping from the soloist. The work ends in an atmosphere of delicious sweetness. There is no doubt that the voice of at least one of the composer’s teachers can be heard here, and not only in the highly effective use of the celesta, but Tischenko’s own voice is much in evidence too, and I hope it will be enough recommendation to readers when I say that this is a work to which I expect to return many times.
I listened to all three works without access to a score, but the performance of the Violin Concerto seems to leave nothing to be desired. The solo part is very demanding, but Viktor Liberman, who gave the work’s first performance and to whom it is dedicated, seems equal to it. The orchestra plays very well.
The Cello Concerto was first performed by the soloist on this record, a certain Mstislav Rostropovich. How many young composers have such a chance? The accompanying ensemble is an unorthodox one, and, strangely, though the translation problems render the sentence ambiguous once again, the notes suggest that Shostakovich, of all people, transcribed the work for orchestra in 1969. Laurel Fay’s biography of Shostakovich (OUP, 2000) seems to support this strange assertion – why would Shostakovich do this? When on earth would he have time? – as does Shostakovich himself in Solomon Volkov’s disputed Testimony. The work itself, however, seems significantly less inspired than the earlier one. In one extended movement, it opens once again with the solo instrument alone, a cadenza of almost six minutes, beginning calmly and rising to a strong, dissonant climax before subsiding again. The accompanying wind instruments appear virtually one by one, beginning with the solo trumpet. The musical language is more advanced, more “difficult” than was the case in the earlier work, but the material seems less memorable. One passage in particular has the soloist repeating over and over again a tiny motif, neither very interesting in itself nor particularly dramatic or logical in context. The main body of the work leads to an orchestral dislocation similar to that which Britten stunningly contrived at the end of the second movement of his Sinfonia da Requiem of 1940. Had the Russian composer, still barely out of his student days, heard the work? This leads to a powerfully dramatic climax which in turn leads to the most satisfying passage once again, the tranquil coda. It is here that the harmonium appears for the first time, and the notes are quite right when they suggest that the instrument’s timbre is such that, when it begins to sing, one might easily mistake it for the wind ensemble. The work ends quietly, with constant repetitions of a short, sad, rather folk-like melodic tag which has been present in one form or another, throughout the work.
The thirty-nine year-old cello virtuoso’s presence ensures another satisfying performance. The wind and percussion ensemble plays well, and the 1966 recording sounds better than many Russian recordings of the period. There is some strange vocalising throughout, probably from the conductor, though it appears to be coming from the right of the sound stage. It’s not particularly distracting.
Wind instruments are very much in evidence again in the music Tischenko composed for Solomon Abramovich Shuster’s short film about the historic Russian town of Suzdal. The disc presents a kind of suite of nine short movements played without a break. The musical language is quite advanced, and this is decidedly not typical film music. A solo tenor and, later, a solo soprano, sing a setting of a rather sombre folk text. The work ends in quiet mystery. The performance seems perfectly to realise the composer’s intentions.
The Violin Concerto is a striking and original work. The other two works are more elusive, but with continued exposure to them may well grow on me. The performances and recording are exemplary. The presentation is fine, though it is a pity about the English translation. All in all, a highly recommendable disc to adventurous collectors, and especially those interested in Russian music who might be particularly intrigued to hear the music of a composer apparently held in high esteem by Dmitry Shostakovich.
William Hedley
Three interesting and challenging works from an eminent Russian contemporary composer … see Full Review