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Alexander TCHAIKOVSKY (b. 1946)
Orchestral Music - Volume 1
Symphony No 7, Op 139, Quarantine Symphony (2020) [20:03]
Symphony No 3, Op 75 (1995-2002) [40:06]
Siberian Symphony Orchestra/Dmitry Vasiliev
rec. 2019/20, Philharmonic Hall, Omsk, Russia

Alexander Tchaikovsky is the nephew of the more famous Boris, although neither is related to the great Tchaikovsky. Like his uncle, Alexander has been prolific in all musical forms and is especially known in Russia for his long association with the Mariinsky Theatre. Tchaikovsky’s music is basically tonal and features frequent changes of mood and some dissonance, but basically fits into the Russian symphonic tradition.

The Symphony No 3 originated in material for a ballet commissioned by the Mariinsky Theatre based on Dostoevsky’s great novel The Idiot (although The Holy Fool might be a better translation). This ballet project eventually fell through and Tchaikovsky used some of its material in the first two movements of the symphony. The last movement is original material. The symphony is on a large scale and opulently scored. It’s first movement alternates between plaintiveness and aggression and the balletic origins frequently are noticeable, especially in the diabolic presto section and in a later quiet passage. The latter also demonstrates Tchaikovsky’s able handling of the movement’s basic material. This second movement was described by the composer as “…a series of waltzes…” and these are well contrasted with lyrical passages where the composer demonstrates great facility in his use of solo instruments. The highlight is a moving section for solo violin and strings. The third movement is the work’s slow movement, and is formally constructed in similar fashion to the first. Most notable here is a passage evocative of Bruckner followed by a lyrical passage and then a massive statement of the movement’s opening material. This symphony ends, surprisingly, with satire. While undeniably impressive, I found that the piece seemed to lack an overall destination, both structurally and emotionally, and made me wish that the originally ballet commission had gone through.

A word about the numbering of Tchaikovsky’s symphonies: many composers have been afraid to write a ninth symphony, given the example of Beethoven. According to this disc’s excellent notes, Tchaikovsky’s fear was not of the Ninth, but of his famous namesake’s Symphony No 6 and so he skipped a sixth symphony and went directly to a seventh. The symphony’s title refers to the conditions under which it was written, and after titling it the 'Quarantine Symphony', the composer actually came down with COVID-19 but has since recovered. The symphony itself is much briefer than No 3 and, given COVID-19 conditions, scored for strings and a sprinkling of percussion, with a piano coming in at the end. I found it far more direct and compelling than No 3 and worthy of the universally-felt emotions that must have gone into its composition.

The first movement of No 7 begins with a plaintive melody that repeatedly tries to rise from the depths. This is contrasted with a brilliantly scored passage of what can only be described as “grinding” music. The development is quite convincing, leading to an almost dismissive ending. The Adagio that follows begins with a fine chorale, slightly reminiscent in style of Shostakovich, leading to a stark central section and a final fugue that grows in confidence, an emotion amplified by the entrance of the piano.

Dmitri Vasiliev has demonstrated the vitality and range of his conducting on his many discs for Toccata. Here he is especially notable for the dynamism and excitement of his performance of the Symphony No 3, while the precision and depth of his reading of No 7 is even more impressive. After more than 15 years under his direction the Siberian Symphony Orchestra knows exactly what Vasiliev requires from them and is ready to oblige. Prior to this recording there were three Tchaikovsky concertos available on disc [review ~ review]. Now we have two symphonies and if Toccata continues this series of Tchaikovsky’s orchestral music, he will finally achieve substantial recorded representation and hopefully increased recognition in the West.

William Kreindler

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