Top positive review
6 people found this helpful
on 19 May 2011
How hearty do you like performances of these two works to be? Whatever reservations anyone may harbour, I would not expect to find a charge of understatement or excessive gentility to be among them. These are, in my own opinion, excellent renderings of the full-blooded variety. The players play with gusto, and the 1990 recording engineers seem to have entered into the spirit of the thing by providing a full-toned sound projected at quite a high volume-level. To sum up my basic reactions, the approach works for me in the Serenade, but not quite so much in the Souvenir de Florence, and there are several reasons for that.
To avoid misunderstandings, I am not suggesting that you would think you were listening to an orchestra of rugby players. The Vienna Chamber Orchestra are sensitive and accomplished musicians. The third movement of the Serenade, for instance, is called an Elegie, and its specifically elegiac sequences are expressed with eloquence, inwardness and restraint. Again, in the adagio of the Souvenir there is a cello solo with a descanting violin part, and all this is treated with affection and lyric delicacy. To me, this came as something of a relief after the slightly strenuous handling of the first movement, and I suppose I need to distinguish carefully between two factors, one of which is not something that can form part of my assessment but the other of which, closely related, is.
The basic issue is that the Souvenir is given here in its version for string orchestra. In origin the piece was a string sextet, with two violins, two violas and two cellos like Brahms's. It is perfectly legitimate to play the orchestral version, and while I in turn would be within my rights to prefer the other version and say so, I would have no right to take this preference into account when rating the performance. On the other hand it is still reasonable to expect the orchestral version to be treated with a certain amount of caution in performance, otherwise the effect can be just slightly wearying for the listener, and this listener was in danger of being just slightly wearied here. To use a metaphor, there are different ways of cooking the Souvenir, and if the richer recipe is employed the dish can be rather indigestible for some consumers. Balancing these considerations as best I can, I would not feel right about awarding the full 5 stars to what I am offered here, but I can perfectly well understand that other listeners may not feel any such qualms.
As regards the Serenade, I have no reservations of any significance. The start is slowish and rather grandiose, and that suits me down to the ground, the rich recorded sound being an added plus. I love the way Entremont handles the waltz that forms the second movement too. Once again his tempo is moderate, and there is a beautiful relaxed feel to it all. The Elegie has a grave and sad remoteness about it, and the finale is splendidly vigorous until the end, when of course we have the opening material from the first movement again, still grandiose and rightly so. The tone of these strings gave me especial pleasure, and I ought to say that no misgivings that I have about the general approach to the Souvenir affect my appreciation of the strong and bracing sound in that work either.
There is a liner note, and it is not a bad one in general. However it is incomprehensibly silent about the issue that I wanted most to see discussed, namely the circumstances under which the original string sextet was given its makeover as a piece for a full string band. One matter of great interest is however addressed, namely the way the composer met his death. The legend, until recently accepted sleepily by many including myself, was that he had for some inscrutable reason drunk a glass of unboiled water during an outbreak of cholera in St Petersburg and fallen victim to that disease in consequence at the age of 53. The real lurid story is set out with great clarity and respect for the evidence in Anthony Holden's excellent biography of Tchaikovsky, a piece of reputable scholarship that is more involving and exciting than many a whodunit when it deals with this issue.
I would not want to end without my customary word of appreciation to Naxos for the great benefit they provide in bringing such a diverse range of musical works to so wide a musical public at so reasonable a cost. Would it be appropriate this time to propose three hearty cheers?