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Vasily KALINNIKOV (1866-1901)
Serenade in G minor for strings [9:13]
Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Idyll for string orchestra [30:55]
Sir Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Serenade for Strings in E minor, Op. 20 [13:06]
Orchestra da Camera ‘Ferruccio Busoni’/Massimo Belli
rec. 2014, l’Auditorium del Collegio del Mondo Unito dell’Adriatico, Duino, Italy
Booklet notes in English & Italian

Possibly of more interest here are the Kalinnikov and Janáček works, which is not to belittle the Elgar, but to suggest that his E minor Serenade will already be gracing most readers’ collections. Two from mine that spring to mind are the LPO/Boult Kingsway Hall recording on EMI, with bonus tube train effects, and the RPO/Groves “101 Strings” job from St Barnabus in Surrey, on Regis. This new disc from the Ferruccio Busoni Chamber Orchestra is a much leaner affair, but should be none the worse for it. Closely recorded in a generous acoustic, the sound strikes a pleasing balance between intimacy and spacious warmth. Elgar’s serenade is played with an objectivity and directness that avoids the sentimental wallow this work can often become. If that appears to betray this CD’s title, I don’t really mind.

Janáček’s early (1878) 7-movement Idyll for string orchestra derives from the spirit of Czech nationalism that also inspired Dvořák, but thematically it lacks his spontaneity and freshness. On the other hand, it begins to reveal the originality of Janáček’s musical thinking, which can sustain attention just as effectively. That’s fine in theory, and while the Busoni orchestra begin and end the work well enough, they are less than convincing, especially in the middle three movements, where the more angular writing exposes some tentative playing and wiry intonation. There is a palpable loss of momentum and concentration, and whether perhaps they were under-rehearsed or over-challenged, I can only guess. Readers more attracted by a good performance of the Janáček than the budget price of this Brilliant Classics disc should instead consider the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra/Iona Brown (Chandos), the Jupiter Orchestra/Gregory Rose (Chandos) or the Wroclaw Chamber Orchestra/Ernst Kovacic (Dux). Other commendable budget versions include those by the Seattle Symphony (Naxos) and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (Warner Apex), both conducted by Gerard Schwarz.

On to the opening piece, and if it appears I’m back-tracking, I confess to playing this disc in reverse order, curious I suppose to find my bearings with the Elgar. Kalinnikov’s Serenade in G minor is new to me, and comes across as a slight but charming work, its lyrical phrases echoed among sections of the orchestra, which the liner notes extol as revealing the composer’s skill in imitation, and “a rich palette of orchestral sound and colour”. This may be setting the bar too high for the Busoni orchestra, who at times sound rather laboured, with hints of the intonation problems that later beset their Janáček Idyll.

Providence may suggest that by playing the Elgar serenade first, I heard the best of this CD. Had I started at the beginning, I might well have reached my conclusions by the time things become unstuck in the middle of the Janáček and, were I a general listener, bailed out at that point. That would have been somewhat of a pity, although thirteen minutes of Elgar even at its very best hardly justifies budget price. In the final analysis, then, neither idyllic nor ideal.

Des Hutchinson



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