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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?
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on 2 August 2010
Philippe Entremont's readings are spectacular; he demonstrates a clear affinity for Tchaikovsky's two works for sting orchestra. The Vienna Chamber Orchestra are stylish, sensitive and deliver highly polished accounts. Some may prefer the original string sextet version of "Souvenir de Florence" but Entremont's fine delivery could very well compromise this stance. A first-class sound-reproduction is delivered by Naxos throughout. Simply Amazing!
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It was a real treat to find this quarter-century old recording of two pieces for string ensemble in a record store. The orchestra in question is the Vienna Chamber Orchestra led by their conductor since 1976, the French pianist-conductor Philippe Entremont. The sound quality on this Naxos recording is fine, given the age of the digital recording (1990). I know of only one other recording with this same combination of pieces and that is the one by Camerata de Lausanne under Pierre Amoyal which I think has equally fine performances of both works but is slightly more expensive. Both pieces are rather late compositions in Tchaikovsky's all- too-brief life: he was in his 40s when they were written but only 53 when he died. Both pieces are full of the glorious melodies that have made Tchaikovsky so popular.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 22 February 2011
Recorded in 1990, this disc comprises two fine pieces for string orchestra, the second not as well known as it should be. The playing is good, but not perfect. The sound is very good: direct, clear, and immediate, allowing the listener to hear different parts of the ensemble play their parts rather than the homogeneity of the whole string orchestra. The only downside is that the basses lack strength.

The interpretation given here of Tchaikovsky's `Serenade for Strings' is light with the feel of the salon about it. The salon atmosphere means that at times the performance can feel a little rough-edged and fragile, but on this occasion that can only be an advantage.

The `Souvenir de Florence' was originally written as a string sextet; its name is not denoted to paint any portrait of the city, it was just that Tchaikovsky began writing it there. David Brown, probably the greatest living authority on the composer in the English-speaking world, writes that, "This sextet is frequently heard [as here] played by a chamber orchestra ... the heavier sound can become wearing." Listening to this interpretation by the Vienna Chamber Orchestra, I never felt that. Rather, this is a strong performance, especially so in the adagio cantabile. The playing of the following allegretto moderato possesses some finely balanced layers, and the finale is played with vigour.

While not of the top rank, this CD is well worth a play.
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on 30 March 2010
Terrific performances.
Full-blooded and eloquent readings of both scores in excellent sound.
This is great Tchaikovsky in great performances irrespective of price.
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on 2 October 2011
Excellent piece of music very rousing and passionate it encouraged me to go out and buy the sheet music. The Dvorak is also a lovely piece, so two pieces of music for the price of one! Great.
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on 8 March 2014
A dreadful recording, you wanted to scream at the CD player, get a move on. I am surprised it did not give up completely half way because the orchestra had gone to sleep through ennui.
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on 25 April 2010
Mushy recording..due to imprecise detail on web page I had WRONGLY assumed a chamber (6-8 )ensemble rather than full blown orchestra.
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