London-based string orchestra, Camerata Tchaikovsky, releases its second recording, Russian Colours on Orchid Classics on June 19th 2020. The heavyweights of the Russian romantic canon are all there on this album: Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, Borodin, Arensky, and the lesser known, and the under-appreciated, Alexander Glazunov.
Taught by Rimsky Korsakov at the St Petersburg Conservatoire, Glazunov was a child prodigy, who composed his first symphony aged sixteen. He had a glittering compositional career in Russia at the end of the nineteenth century and toured and conducted his own symphonies abroad, helped by the financial backing of millionaire music publisher, Mitrofan Belyayev.
Glazunov’s Concerto for Alto saxophone and String Orchestra in E flat (1934), is an inspired choice by violinist and violist, Yuri Zhislin, who heads up this superb chamber orchestra. This was one of Glazunov’s last compositions, written at a time when he had been considered old hat on the musical circuit. But Zhislin’s viola, replacing the saxophone, makes this a ravishing concerto from start to finish.
The Allegro Moderato full string opening is majestic and grave. Zhislin’s tender and nostalgic viola comes in, fastens the pace, and turns it into some dizzyingly fast rhapsodic dance. Exquisite.
Anton Arensky, a contemporary of Glazunov (they shared the same teacher Rimsky Korsakov) follows with his String Quartet No 2 in A Minor, arranged for string orchestra by Zhislin. The strings enter on a tentative, sad theme of great beauty, which crescendoes, picks up pace, ready for Zhislin’s violin to burst in. This is a stunning movement of contrasting drama and reflection.
Arensky’s catchy Variation on a theme by Tchaikovsky following, reminds us how enamoured Arensky was with Tchaikovsky.
Meanwhile Tchaikovsky’s Cantabile for String Quartet No 1 (1871) really benefits from being played by this larger ensemble. The immensely melodic, joyful, graceful work allows the musicians to take flight, their bows swirling with sweetness.
In Borodin’s Nocturne from String Quartet No.2 (1881) Zhislin’s viola provides the warm, burnished tones necessary for this work of reflection and nostalgia.
The highly emotive Vocalise (1912) by Rachmaninov wraps up the album to stunning effect. I loved the increasing urgency of the cellos in this work and their repartee with the upper string section.
This romantic programme aims at the heart but the musicians interpret the material with both passion and precision. Highly recommended.
Russian colours is released on Orchid Classics on June 19th 2020.