RODION SHCHEDRIN: Concertos for Orchestra Nos. 4 and 5; Kristallene Gusti – Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Kirill Karabits – Naxos 8.572405 ****:
Many audiophiles will remember a recording by Arthur Fiedler of Rodion Shchedrin’s outrageously delightful orchestration of The Carmen Ballet (Bizet) for strings and 47 percussion instruments in 1969. Shchedrin (b. 1932) emerged in the 1960s and 70s as the ‘popular’ (accepted by the Russian authorities) successor to Prokofiev and Shostakovich. His style in this period was accessible, spiced by interesting modernistic touches, and brilliantly orchestrated. Ballet became one of his major genres, as his wife was the ballerina Maya Plisetskaya. He shed the mantle of the Russian boy wonder by the 1980s and developed a more personal, direct style, but still accessible to 20th century ears.
The works in this recording were composed in the late 1980s and 1990s and draw their inspiration from Shchedrin’s childhood musical memories in the small Russian town of Alekin – choral songs, the strumming of the balalaika, funeral laments, and the sound of the accordion. Concerto for Orchestra No. 4, ‘Roundelays,’ is the composer’s imaginative fantasy of “old national slav celebrations, when young men and women still sang and danced round-dances on Russian soil, delighting one another in the intricate lacework of rhythmic movement, flirting and playing in boisterousness, daring and gracefulness,” the composer writes. It starts slowly (and beautifully) and the variety of percussion and winds play an ostinato folk dance. The second half is a dance that increases in tempo and volume, and screeches its way into a pagan dance on steroids – and ends quietly as it began. This is a unique work bound to test your stereo.
In Concerto for Orchestra No. 5, ‘Four Russian Songs,’ Shehedrin takes us on a journey to four different cities, each with different folk-inspired songs. Resplendent with sleigh bells, the trip has many tempos and moods: slow melodies, scurrying interludes, joyous ditties and moving climaxes. The composer’s brilliant orchestration is a never-ending array of colorful sounds. Chrystal Psaltry is a meditational, delicate and sometimes shrill study in string sonority written to commemorate the jubilee of Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu.
Performance and sound are excellent. Recommended for those looking for colorful symphonic compositions with a Russian accent.
— Robert Moon