Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY(1840-1893) Complete works for cello and orchestra
Variations on a Rococo Theme op.33 (1877) (original version) [18:30]
Nocturne, op. 19 no. 4 (1886-7) [3:55]
Andante cantabile, op. post. (adapted from the First String Quartet
No.1, op.11) (1888) [5:45]
Pezzo capriccioso, op. 62 (1887) [6:50]
Andante cantabile (adapted from The Sleeping Beauty, op.66) (1889)
Serenade for Strings, op 48 (1880) [26:50]
Alexander Rudin (cello)
Ensemble Instrumental Musica Viva/Gennady Rozhdestvensky, Alexander
rec. February 1997, Mosfilm Studios, Moscow, Russia. DDD
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94188 [66:14]
For someone who did not play the cello, Tchaikovsky wrote a
fair amount of music for the instrument. This comprises two
original works, the Rococo Variations and the Pezzo Capriccioso,
and two transcriptions for cello that he made from earlier works.
Tchaikovsky’s arrangements are supplemented on this disc
by the cello solo from Swan Lake, and the well-known
Serenade for Strings in C major. Nicolai Alexeiev is the conductor
in all items except for the Serenade, in which the orchestra
is conducted by Rudin.
The Rococo Variations is a well-known work, but is presented
here in a somewhat less familiar guise. Tchaikovsky wrote this
work for the German cellist Wilhelm Fitzenhagen, who made extensive
changes to the work as it first appeared; this is the version
that is most often recorded. The Fitzenhagen version reshuffles
the order of the variations, omits one altogether, and puts
the cadenza much closer to the end of the work. Both versions
have something to recommend them, and it is one of the virtues
of this recording that it gives listeners a chance to hear what
Tchaikovsky originally wrote. The Rococo Variations is an elegant
work without much emotional depth; as the title suggests it
pays hommage to the classical period. Its mood varies
from melancholy to brilliant and skittish, and the eight variations
give the cellist ample opportunity for technical display.
Alexander Rudin’s entry is warm-toned, and he subtly alternates
between legato and detached bowing. His playing has great dynamic
variety; at its fullest he approaches Rostropovich’s opulence
of sound. Rudin employs a few discreet expressive slides, and
his intonation is impeccable. This is a polished and eloquent
performance. For comparison I listened again to a recording
by Julian Lloyd Webber from the 1980s or 1990s, in which he
plays with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Maxim
Shostakovich. Unfortunately the Russian contribution is not
enough to enliven this performance, which is rather dull. Neither
cellist is really stretched by the work, but Rudin seems to
find rather more in it.
The next two pieces on the disc are arrangements by Tchaikovsky
from earlier works. The elegiac Nocturne is sourced from the
six piano pieces op. 19 of 1873, and the Andante cantabile was
originally the slow movement from his String Quartet no. 1 in
D, op. 11 of 1871. The latter piece originates from a trip that
Tchaikovsky paid to his sister’s estate in the Ukraine;
while there he heard a workman whistling a folk melody. This
movement was encored at the premiere of the String Quartet,
and it proved to be one of his most popular compositions. Rudin
plays these pieces in a relaxed way which shows off his beautiful
legato playing. The Pezzo Capriccioso is a slightly longer piece
originally written for cello and piano, which Tchaikovsky later
orchestrated. Rudin handles both the pensive opening and the
virtuoso middle section with great skill. The second Andante
cantabile presents the cello solo from the Sleeping Beauty
ballet of 1889.
The disc concludes with the Serenade for Strings in C major.
As its name (and key) suggest, this is a work of untroubled
lyricism, with none of the darker undertones of Tchaikovsky’s
major works. Like the Rococo variations, this work harks back
to an earlier musical era, particularly in the slow-fast-slow
structure of the first movement. I am not quite sure how it
belongs on the disc; it has lovely cello tunes, but the same
could be said for much of Tchaikovsky’s output. Regardless,
this is a fine performance that manages to say something new
about this very familiar work. The opening of the first movement
is taken noticeably faster than other performances; however,
this is within the bounds of its Andante non troppo marking.
The Valse reminds one of how Czarist Russia looked to Paris
for its artistic models; it manages also to sound quite Russian.
This well-known movement is elegantly played, with particularly
delightful interplay between the parts. The finale’s folk-sounding
themes are freshly presented, and the pizzicatos are very well
The comparison here is with Sir John Barbirolli’s 1964
performance with the London Symphony Orchestra, available in
the 6 CD set John Barbirolli: the great EMI recordings
(EMI 4577672). The sonics in this recording are more constricted,
but the performance features some wonderfully full-blooded string
playing. Barbirolli shapes an affectionate performance, which
unashamedly revels in Tchaikovsky’s brilliant string writing.
His tempi are a bit slower than Rudin’s, taking almost
exactly a minute longer overall. Rudin’s performance,
however, is more graceful, and has the advantage of modern sound.
He is placed quite close in the balance in the solo works, and
the Russian recording is a little lacking in atmosphere, but
the performances more than make up for that.
Fans of Tchaikovsky’s shorter works, or of great cello
playing, will find this disc another Brilliant bargain.
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