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Samuel Barber (1910-1981)
Adagio for Strings (1936)
Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934)
Introduction and Allegro for Strings Op. 47 (1905)
Pyotr Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
Serenade for Strings Op. 48 (1880)
Strings of the Boston Symphony Orchestra/Charles Munch
rec. 1957
Reviewed as download

A more toothsome trio of string music lollipops could hardly be assembled than what we have here in this vintage recording from 1957; each is a masterpiece in its own right.

The Adagio is rightly among the most popular and accessible of melancholy, elegiac works. The build-up to the stringendo climax five minutes before the warm epilogue is stunning in its intensity. The beginning of Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro is similarly suffused with passionate import and the throbbing vibrato of the solo viola merely enhances that tension. The fugue is thrillingly executed and the finale is nobly played. Listening to the work this well played reminds what variety of mood and form such a short piece as this embraces. This is a recording to vie with the best – including favourite versions such as the famous one by Barbirolli on EMI.

Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings, the most melodic and upbeat of compositions, was written during one of the few happy interludes in his troubled life. The moto perpetuo Allegro following the stately opening declaration is wonderfully sprung and energised. The waltz could not more elegant and is over all too quickly; I love the delicate way Munch handles the ritardando at its conclusion. Of course, the heart of the Serenade is the Elegie and the richness of tone delights. Pauses and pacing are perfectly judged and the final repeated chords are beautifully poised. The finale is shot through with what Westerners – but presumably Russians, too – recognise to be the authentic Russian spirit and its kinship as a little sibling to the contemporaneous 1812 Overture is obvious; it is just as exciting. Again, this can stand comparison with any other recording by such as Karajan or Ormandy.

The closeness of the recording serves to highlight how skilled and virtuosic the BSO strings are, especially the viola and cello soloists and desks, which play such a prominent role in all three works. The balances between sections are ideal, with plenty of bite in the upper strings but tremendous heft from the basses.

Oddly, no individual track or overall timings are given, so I have provided them below and above respectively, taken from the download. As ever with this label, the programme is hardly generous but at just under fifty minutes it is certainly considerably longer than some HDTT issues – the same as the original, standard LP - and with music, execution and sound engineering of this quality I have no complaint at all.

Ralph Moore

Track timings
1. Adagio: 7.35
2. Introduction and Allegro: 14:05
3. Pezza in forma di sonatina: 7:42
4. Walzer: 3:57
5. Elegie: 7:55
6. Finale - Tema Russo: 7:06

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