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Poems and Rhapsodies Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
La Muse et le Poète Op 132 [17:24] Ernest CHAUSSON (1855-1899)
Poème symphonique, Op 25 [16:43] Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
The Lark Ascending [16:37] Anatol KOS-ANATOLSKY (1909-1983)
Poem for Violin and Orchestra in D minor [9:22] Kenneth FUCHS (b.1956)
American Rhapsody (Romance for Violin and Orchestra) [11:47] Myroslav SKORYK (1938-2020)
Carpathian Rhapsody [6:40]
Solomiya Ivakhiv (violin), Sophie Sao (cello, Saint-Saëns), National Symphony of Ukraine/Volodymyr Sirenko
rec. 15-19 July 2019, Grand Concert Studio of Ukrainian Radio Company, Kyiv, Ukraine
Reviewed as a digital download from a press preview CENTAUR CRC3799 [78:37]
Given events in Ukraine, it was tempting to award this Recommended status as an act of solidarity but that would be to patronise the performers. There is a horrible irony to the fact that this album is very much a Russian sounding take on some very well-known repertoire and some not so. I was tempted to use a euphemism like ‘Slavic’ but when Chausson sounds like Tchaikovsky, there is really no other term for it. Such close cultural ties between the two countries only serves to underline the tragedy of the current situation.
I must say I enjoyed hearing Vaughan Williams’ lark ascending over the Ukrainian wheat fields though here the sound the orchestra makes seems more idiomatic than in the Chausson. That sound is rather forthright which means this a rather more rustic Lark than the shimmering Ravelian one encountered on my personal favourite recording by Nigel Kennedy and Simon Rattle but rustic is no bad thing in the music of VW.
There is lot to like about this earthy take on the Chausson Poème. Certainly I preferred it to Hilary Hahn’s rather too chaste version on her recent Paris album though neither can touch Menuhin with Pritchard on a long vanished Classics for Pleasure album in a performance that threatens to combust with brooding eroticism.
From the familiar/ubiquitous we move into much more uncharted waters. Saint-Saëns seems to be enjoying a well deserved revival at the moment but I still hadn’t come across this particular work before. It is an orchestrated piano trio with a fanciful title plastered on it by an opportunistic publisher. It takes the form of a dialogue between the solo cello and violin. Both soloists give rather rhapsodic soliloquies before coming together as the piece proceeds. I wouldn’t number it among Saint-Saëns’ neglected masterpieces but it fits well within what is a largely lyrical and romantic showcase for Ivakhiv. I found it somewhat reminiscent of Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations.
There is another cruel irony in that the Ukrainian composer Kos-Anatolsky’s agreeable enough Poem for Violin and Orchestra has more than a whiff of socialist realism about it, not least when one realises it was premiered in the same year as Shostakovich’s 13th symphony. Based on the folk songs of the Carpathian Mountains, this piece surely represents the retreat of a composer to safer ground in the face of an earlier tyranny. Folk music was on the Soviet approved list and there is nothing about this pot pourri that couldn’t have been written in 1840. In a world in which violin virtuosi limit themselves to what feels like the same half dozen concertos, this makes a pleasant, tuneful change and the Ukrainian forces play it with unaffected enthusiasm. I think it maybe needed a bit more razzmatazz from the soloist to really sell it.
The presence of the contemporary American composer Kenneth Fuchs further cements the pick and mix character of this programme. His compositions are very much on the conservative side of music being written today. Think of an heir to Copland via John Adams but without the minimalism and you will get some idea of his musical idiom. The long slow opening sequence, which sounds to my ear like an evocation of a glowing summer dawn, gives way to an extended cadenza before the shimmering opening music returns. It is a well made piece that never quite makes a distinctive impression despite Ivakhiv’s sensuous advocacy.
She wraps up the recording with another trip to the Carpathians. This time our guide is the Ukrainian composer Myroslav Skoryk. The piece dates from 2004 but is anything but cutting edge. It does have a very likeable energy and a rather saucy wit. I found Ivakhiv a little unsmiling here though her colleagues are clearly having a lot of fun with Skoryk’s tangy sounds and textures. I spoke to someone this week whose wife is Ukrainian and he told me that his overriding impression of the Ukrainian people was one of youth and a sense of fun so this feels like both a fitting tribute to their spirit and a fitting end to this disc.