To anyone familiar with the chamber sonorities of Tchaikovsky's Souvenir de Florence
, the textures of a string orchestra version are liable to sound rather thick. Dennis Russell Davies's arrangement does something to combat the problem by using single strings at certain crucial points: the opening melody of the Adagio second movement, for example. But the inevitable comparison with the original sextet scoring is not to the string orchestra's advantage. In the final movement Davies is compelled to decree a marked slowing at the beginning of the fugal section so that the massed strings do not trip over themselves, and overall even such a mobile ensemble as the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra sounds a shade lumbering when heard next to the fleetness and exuberance of an augmented Borodin Quartet recorded in 1965, to pick just one example.
Given the above, it is not surprising that the Serenade for Strings, played as it was conceived, should convey a greater sense of balance and wholeness. In fact, the Stuttgart CO goes beyond this and produces the sort of memorable reading which renders commentary superfluous - although if pressed one might mention the famous waltz movement - a model of grace and gentle humour - and the Elegy that follows it, which glows with warmth and an authentically Tchaikovskian restrained ardour. Davies's judgement throughout is meticulous and unfaltering, drawing from his players an ideal performance that is disciplined yet elastic enough to allow the breadth and subtlety of Tchaikovsky's masterpiece to shine through.
© BBC Music Magazine 2001