Sunday 5 October 2014

Important chamber works by Boris Tchaikovsky receive passionate and deeply felt performances on a new release from Naxos

Boris Tchaikovsky (1925-1996) was born in Moscow to music loving parents. He studied at the Gnessin's School of Music with Vissarion Shebalin, Igor Sposobin, A.Mutly.  In 1943 he entered the Moscow Conservatory where he studied the piano under Lev Oborin and composition under Vissarion Shebalin, Dmitri Shostakovich, who considered his pupil to be very talented and Nikolai Myaskovsky.
Though Tchaikovsky worked for a radio station for a short period he later made his living entirely from his compositions, including commissioned works and scores for radio, theatre, film and television.

He was awarded the USSR State Prize in 1969, for his Second Symphony and became the People's Artist of USSR in 1985.

It was only during the last years of his life that he taught at the Russian Academy of Music, where he was a Professor in the department of composition with students that included Stanislav Prokudin, Yury Abdokov, Rade Radovich, Alexander Khristianov, Elena Astafieva and Jakov Kurochkin.

Tchaikovsky’s composition encompassed orchestral works, including three numbered symphonies, concertos, chamber works, piano works and vocal works as well as his scores for radio, theatre, film and television.

Of his chamber works, his Piano Quintet (1962) is thought by many to be his finest. Boris Tchaikovsky gave the premiere with the Borodin Quartet at the Small Glinka Hall, Leningrad Philharmonie on 28th December 1962.

Naxos have just released a new recording of the Piano Quintet coupled with The War Suite (1964/2011) compiled and edited for two violins, viola, cello and clarinet by Elena Astafieva and Stanislav Prokudin. For the Piano Quintet, members of the Vanburgh Quartet are joined by violinist Ioana Petcu-Colan and pianist Olga Solovieva .

A wandering piano theme opens the Moderato before the quartet enters, adding strident chords over the piano motif, occasionally discordant. Soon the strings bring a melodic episode based on the piano’s opening theme. Tonally free, this section has a lovely forward flow. Though the music quietens with a gentle variant it soon becomes increasingly rich in textures and more passionate with strident piano chords against the anxious strings. Eventually the piano and strings share the passionate theme before the music quietens with little harmonies for the strings as the piano wanders, bringing a return to the nature of the opening and a satisfying conclusion.

The Allegro – Largo seems to pick up on the strange, hushed nature of the coda to the moderato, with the strings moving around before the piano joins in a more defined motif to which the strings join. For all its gentler nature there is still an anxious quality with, at one point, the strings bursting out stridently and passionately, reflected by the piano. The music moves through many passages of faster, vibrant music, then slows to an anxious theme, full of expressiveness and emotion. Towards the end the strings divide to provide a counter-theme before the quiet, rather quixotic coda.

The piano pushes out a strident theme to open the Allegro, soon taken up by the strings, full of forward, emphatic propulsion and no let-up in passion with the quartet really biting into their strings. There is also no relief for the pianist, with terrific chords as the music pushes its way to its sudden end. There is phenomenal playing from all concerned in this movement.

A hesitant, staccato piano motif is picked out in the opening of the Adagio, taken by the strings and developed before the hesitancy quietly returns, only to be taken up by the piano again. Slowly the strings quietly re-join with the piano providing intervals that bring an emotional tug in this deeply emotional section. Soon there is more of a forward flow from the strings, still passionate, with quieter moments of great beauty. A deep piano motif and pizzicato strings add to the dark nature of this music as the music seems to lurch along with staccato phrases from the piano.  Eventually the music gives way to a sad, but more flowing variation that leads slowly to the hushed coda.

Are there any influences of Tchaikovsky’s teacher, Shostakovich? Perhaps just a hint in the passionate, agitated string writing, but otherwise this is pure Boris Tchaikovsky - of the most impressive kind.

The Vanburgh Quartet with pianist Olga Solovieva give a passionate and deeply felt performance with some exceptionally fine playing in the more dramatic moments.

In 1964, Boris Tchaikovsky wrote the score for the film While Defending the Front Line, scoring it for just string quartet and clarinet. In his informative booklet note, Louis Blois tells us that, shortly after the release of the film, the score went missing. It was only ten years after Tchaikovsky’s death that it was located in St. Petersburg.

It was two of Boris Tchaikovsky’s former composition students, Elena Astafieva and Stanislav Prokudin, that compiled and edited the score for two violins, viola, cello and clarinet to form the The War Suite (1964 arr. 2011) played here, in a World Premiere Recording, by The Vanburgh Quartet with Maxim Anisimov (clarinet).

The cello introduces the Waltz (Farewell) soon joined by the other quartet members with some delicate high notes. Soon the clarinet joins as the waltz moves ahead, led by the clarinet with an attractive string accompaniment. A quivering cello motif punctuated by string outbursts brings much intense flavour to The Night Breakthrough (The High Road) before rising in drama and leading into The Road where a pizzicato motif leads the strings under which a melody is played, again very individual writing including harmonics.

The clarinet draws out the Waltz: Theme for solo clarinet (The Trench) into long phrases contrasts by the short string phrases of Tanks which rise up with strident staccato phrases, bringing the sound of expectancy yet inevitability. In the Mournful Waltz (Conclusion) strings bring a return, quietly and slowly, of the waltz theme, rather mysterious in feel before a sudden upward surge to conclude.

Country House also has a clarinet solo with the same waltz theme to which the strings join in this melancholy piece, beautifully written and played.

A deep cello theme opens The Swamp in a quite virtuoso passage before the quartet join in this passionate theme, occasionally with the flavour of Janacek’s string writing. High, staccato harmonics open Divarication where the other strings soon join before leading to The Battle where pizzicato strings appear, playing a rather grotesque dance before the music develops with sliding strings and, at one point, siren like phrases rising and falling.

The bittersweet Finale (Appointment) soon leads us into the waltz theme again, with the quartet and clarinet, before the unexpected end.

There is some brilliantly inventive writing in this suite, often on the lighter side but often with darker undertones, expertly played by these artists.

This is an important issue which Boris Tchaikovsky enthusiasts and, indeed, Russian music enthusiasts should welcome. The recording is detailed and full bodied and there are informative booklet notes.

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