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Boris TCHAIKOVSKY (1925-1996)
Piano Quintet (1962) [36:35]
The War Suite (1964/2011)* (ed. Elena Astafieva and Stanislav Prokudin) [30:12]
Olga Solovieva (piano), Maxim Anisimov (clarinet), Vanbrugh Quartet (Gregory Ellis (violin I), Keith Pascoe (violin II), Ionna Petcu-Colan (violin II), Simon Aspell (viola), Christopher Marwood (cello))
rec. Studio 1 of the Russian State TV and Radio Company KULTURA, Moscow, Russia, 11 October, 2012 (War Suite); Mosfilm Ton-Studios, Moscow, Russia, 31 October 2013 (Quintet)
* world première recording
NAXOS 8.573207 [66:47]

In the words of the note writer, Boris Tchaikovsky “is revered in Russian musical circles as one of the most original and innovative composers of the post-Shostakovich generation”. Rostropovich held that one day people would consider that two of Russia’s greatest composers bore the same name. Shostakovich writing to his friend Isaak Glikman said “If Barshai’s orchestra comes on tour to Leningrad, and if his programmes include Weinberg’s Symphony No.10 or Boris Tchaikovsky’s Sinfonietta, do make sure you go and hear them. They are incredibly beautiful pieces. In general, they are both composers you should take note of”.

The two works here are both from the 1960s and for anyone new to his music they are works that will thoroughly whet the appetite for more. Fortunately there is a fair amount of his music available on disc and the Boris Tchaikovsky website is a useful port of call to see many of them listed, They include a version of the piano quintet with the composer at the piano (Regis FRC9111). The website’s strap line “Modern music which sounds like music” is very telling.

The piano quintet opens with the piano alone for almost a minute before being joined by the other instruments. Soon the violin introduces a striking theme that recurs throughout the first movement, one which is reiterated by each member of the quintet in differing configurations and speeds. This creates a powerful and memorable impression as the music rises in intensity before the movement quietens to a calm conclusion. The second movement has the strings behave capriciously, flitting around each other while the piano presents a grounded element which brings a degree of order to the proceedings before another flurry of notes occurs. However the movement closes in a gently reflective manner.

The third movement is frequently reminiscent of Shostakovich; what a far-reaching influence he had on mid and late 20th century music in Russia. This spirited and volatile movement is exciting with a theme upon which many variations are thrillingly introduced. The final Adagio is an oasis of calm by comparison and which shows Tchaikovsky’s considerable ability for forging a wealth of music out of a very small kernel.

The other work on this disc is unusual in that it comprises episodes from music for the 1964 film While Defending the Front Line. This he wrote and scored, not for a symphony orchestra as one might expect considering it is a ‘war film’ but as per the director’s wishes, for string quartet plus clarinet. The score disappeared shortly after the film was released and was believed missing until, more than ten years after Tchaikovsky’s death, it surfaced among archives in St Petersburg. Edited by two of the composer’s composition students it receives its world première recording here. The use of a string quartet allows for a degree of poignancy when required that a full orchestra would struggle to impart. The first Waltz subtitled Farewell illustrates that perfectly. It is the motto that represents the two lovers Rusanov and Katya whose experiences are played out against the backdrop of successes and failures that inevitably occur at times of war. Tragically when Rusanov goes to the house where the lovers used to meet towards the end of the film he learns that Katya has been killed by a stray bullet leaving him totally overwhelmed by grief. When appearing as a concert piece the suite is played in a sequence that more easily tells the story when the music is away from the film. With the use of string quartet plus clarinet it is a far cry from film music as we know it and is a powerful and affecting work.

The suite was given its first concert performance in October 2012 at the Irish-Russian Chamber Music Festival — what an interesting and unusual idea. This was held in the Concert Hall of the Moscow Conservatory Central Music School with the quartet and clarinet soloist heard on this recording which was made in the same month. The Vanbrugh Quartet was Resident Quartet at RTÉ (Raidió Teilifís Éireann, Ireland’s national broadcasting service) from 1986 to 2013. They are Artists in residence to University College Cork as well as the founders of the internationally acclaimed West Cork Chamber Music Festival. Their sensitive playing is in evidence throughout this disc. Maxim Anisimov is a brilliantly evocative player whose mellow tone shines brightly at every appearance. As a Boris Tchaikovsky Society Award Winner in 2010 the pianist Olga Solovieva is the perfect choice for the piano quintet; see also her recording of Boris Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto on Naxos 8557727.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable disc making a fine introduction to the music of this great Russian composer.

Steve Arloff