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Pyotr TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Pezzo capriccioso, Op. 62 (1887) [6.24]
Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op. 33 (1876/77) [18.54]
Serenade for Strings, Op. 48 (1880) [34.08]
Nina Kotova (cello)
Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra/Vladimir Fedoseyev
rec. Studio 5, State House of Radio Broadcasting and Sound-Recording, Moscow
DELOS DE3531 [59.37]

For her new album it is not surprising Russian-American cellist Nina Kotova has turned her attention to the warm, expressively melodious works of Tchaikovsky. A former student at Moscow Conservatory it’s easy to imagine Moscow born Kotova having a special affinity to the music of Tchaikovsky who had served there as professor of music theory. As a composer Kotova has written several substantial works mainly for the cello including a Cello Concerto (2000), Concert Suite for cello & chamber orchestra ‘Tuscan Sun’ (2002) and Concerto for cello & strings ‘The Tuscan’ (2005). In 2007 I recall reviewing Kotova’s engaging recording of Dvořák Cello Concerto with Philharmonia Orchestra under Andrew Litton on Sony (review).

Tchaikovsky composed his Pezzo capriccioso in around a week in 1887 and dedicated the score to cellist Anatoliy Brandukov who introduced the orchestral version under the composer’s baton in 1889 at Moscow. The somber nature of the work in B minor is thought to reflect the suffering of his friend Nikolay Kondratyev who had contracted syphilis. I notice Kotova has had the Pezzo capriccioso in her repertoire since the age of fifteen. Blending playing of poetry and ardour Kotova is in her element with this lyrical score which as the title suggests is whimsical and abounds with numerous character swings.
By far the best-known work here, Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme was the nearest the great Russian came to composing a cello concerto. In this score his affection for Baroque music and his admiration of Mozart are both noticeable influences. Tchaikovsky thought highly of Wilhelm Fitzenhagen’s prowess on the cello and dedicated the Rococo Variations to him. Seeking his opinion Tchaikovsky sent the score to Fitzenhagen who made sweeping changes even writing some of his own music. Tchaikovsky kept the much-revised score as Fitzenhagen had left it and this was the version that was played exclusively until 1956 when Tchaikovsky’s original was finally published. It is Fitzenhagen’s revised version recorded here by Kotova. There are more poised and eloquent accounts of the Rococo Variations but few I doubt as warm and passionate as this from Kotova. The main theme is beautifully underlined by Kotova and especially enjoyable is the second variation a short but lively discussion between cello and orchestra. Striking, in variation three (an Andante sostenuto) is the rapt tenderness of the soloist’s long and attractive cello line. Noteworthy is the playing of the score’s conclusion a fresh and infectiously spirited folk-dance. Probably the most popular version of Rococo Variations is the now evergreen account from Mstislav Rostropovich and Berliner Philharmoniker under Herbert von Karajan on Deutsche Grammophon. Admirable too is the outstanding account from soloist Jan Volger with Frankfurt Radio Symphony under Andrés Orozco-Estrada from 2015 Frankfurt am Main on Sony. For his recording Vogler has selected his “own version that combines the original with that of Fitzenhagen… every note of Tchaikovsky is played here” (review). Another recording I often turn to is the uplifting and characterful performance from Gautier Capuçon with the Mariinsky Orchestra under Valery Gergiev, using the Fitzenhagen version which was recorded live in 2013 at Paris (review).

Composed in 1880 the Serenade for Strings followed shortly after Tchaikovsky completed the 1812 Overture. In a letter to his patron Nadezhda von Meck Tchaikovsky explained that the Serenade was written “from inner compulsion… a piece from the heart…!” The serenade was introduced in public at St Petersburg in 1881 under Eduard Napravnik. It’s hard to fault the strings of Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra providing playing of warm, full sonority that is passionate and highly appealing.

A passionate performer Kotova’s playing feels authentic and from the heart, and her cello has a simply glorious tone. Veteran conductor Vladimir Fedoseyev knows these works inside out and it shows with the playing of the Moscow based Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra impressively direct, whole-hearted and responsive. The engineers at the Studio 5, State House of Radio Broadcasting and Sound-Recording, Moscow have done an exceptional job providing warmth, clarity and well balanced too. Incidentally the building was constructed on the site of the demolished Church St. George the Victorious where Tchaikovsky in 1877 married Antonina Ivanovna Miliukova. I enjoyed reading the helpful booklet essay written by David Brin. In truth I’m surprised that Kotova hasn’t filled up available space on the CD with say Tchaikovsky’s Sérénade mélancholique (1875) although originally for violin and orchestra cellist Jan Vogler has prepared a worthy arrangement for cello and orchestra.

Featuring the cellist Nina Kotova this Tchaikovsky recording with its authentic Russian feel is well worth the investment.

Michael Cookson



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