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Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Nocturne in F major, Op 10 No 1 (1871-2) [5:34]
The Seasons, Op 37a (1875-6) [51:16]
Nocturne in C-sharp minor, Op 19 No 4 (1873) [3:50]
rec. 27-30 February 2019, La Seine Musicale, Riffx Studio, Boulogne-Billancourt, France
Booklet includes the epigraphs of Russian poetry for the scenes of The Seasons suggested by its commissioner, translated into English and French.
FONDAMENTA FON-1901036 [60:40]

My selection from The Seasons is, as when reviewing Boris Bloch’s 2018 recording (review), considering how different an approach Moscow-born Vladimir Tropp brings. First, January, By the fireside, marked Moderato semplice, ma espressivo. Tropp’s playing is a model of achieving this. He begins in easy contentment, but the inner parts strikingly clear, the ‘tenor’ especially, as the contentment unravels. The Meno mosso section (tr. 2, 1:32) is like a sudden slow motion. The repeated descending phrase in the right hand seems a doom-laden bell toll before a motif, though chromatic, full of hope as it falls then rises (2:07). The toll returns sanitized; a poco stringendo development (3:17) expunges the remaining gremlins and soars into calm. The opening returns, inner parts now benign, a poco crescendo flurry of mischief weathered and Tropp’s coda limpid. Timing at 5:30 to Tropp’s 6:15, Bloch’s account is more Andante: smoother, more beautiful, easier on the ear, but less dramatic.

Second, February, Shrove Tuesday Carnival, a strict Allegro. Tropp, taking 4:01, favours a broad Allegro, lots of detail, clear line, but zest compromised. Bloch, taking 2:39, brings breathtaking swirling activity, but weight compromised. Tropp handles well the crescendo poco a poco (tr. 3, 0:13) of the second strain of the opening theme, building excitement of slow burn variety. His third strain (0:35) is nicely characterized as a happy, nimble dance.

Third, October, Autumn Song, Andante doloroso e molto cantabile, is gloriously played by Tropp: the Andante just right, lingering in gratitude for Autumn yet sad foreseeing Winter’s approach, displaying wonderfully full tone, every note seeming a distillation of experience. An opening ‘soprano’ arioso becomes a soulful, sometimes tender, ‘soprano’ and ‘tenor’ duet. In the central section (tr. 11, 1:32) the lady is mellow (happy times), the man awkward. The lady grows passionate, the man expansive, then despairing. The effect Tropp achieves is heart-wrenching. His coda (4:25) seems a dignified, desolate, acceptance of the end of everything. Bloch is less outwardly raw, his central section lighter and fresher, then the man’s desolation unforeseen.

Finally, November, On the troika, Allegro moderato. Tropp leans on the moderato and adds cantabile. Again, lingering lyricism but here also arpeggio effects that give it momentum. The grazioso central section (tr. 12, 1:22) is crisper. Its offsetting appoggiaturas crackle vivaciously, arguably too brazenly. Semiquavers finally dominate the right-hand, staccato over the opening theme, poco marcato in the left. The return to the earlier mix of theme in the right hand and further elaborated arpeggios in the left Tropp makes welcome relief. But the staccato accompaniment returns for me too present, the mechanics of and bell sounds associated with riding overcoming its joy floating on air. Bloch is less glowing with the theme but fresher in articulation. His central section gains from a lighter touch, wonderfully nimble semiquavers permitting the theme to be relished.

The booklet includes excellent, detailed notes by Tropp. His interpretations are ever painstaking, some revelatory, but some I feel trapped in the intensity of their focus.

Michael Greenhalgh

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