TCHAIKOVSKY: Souvenir de Florence in d minor (String Orchestra Version); String Quartet No. 3 in e-flat minor; Melodrama from The Snow Maiden – Ch. Orch. Kremlin/ Misha Rachlevsky – Claves

TCHAIKOVSKY: Souvenir de Florence in d minor, Op. 70 (String Orchestra Version); String Quartet No. 3 in e-flat minor, Op. 30 (arr. Rachlevsky); Melodrama from The Snow Maiden, Op. 12 – Ch. Orch. Kremlin/ Misha Rachlevsky – Claves CD 50-9317, 72:47 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

It seems that each “new” performance of Tchaikovsky’s 1891 “love letter” to Florence, Italy, his Souvenir de Florence – originally a string sextet –  becomes ever more intense and aggressive, so this orchestrated version from the composer under the direction of conductor Misha Rachlevsky (b. 1946) proves no exception. The opening “Allegro con spirito” clearly means to approach symphony proportions, as the composer himself noted its wealth of ideas and “its novelty of form.” The d minor key – with its minor ninth interval for urgency – proves no obstacle to the onrush of fertile energies, of which the Italianate second theme provides a lush, fervent lyricism.  Before the finale of this impetuous music, Rachlevsky has his strings switch to asbestos in the furor of the coda’s stretti.

The haunting D Major cantabile e con moto Adagio provides the principal violin and cello – over a plucked guitar accompaniment – some wonderful colloquy in the manner of Tchaikovsky ballet pas de deux.  Despite the large body of strings, the middle section – marked punto d’arco – manages some eerie, arresting sound effects. With the da capo, the bel canto fervor of Italian opera returns with renewed passion, the lush sonority a testament to the homogeneity Rachlevsky’s players can achieve. The Allegretto moderato (in a minor) exploits the resonant sound of the violas. Its Russian sound belies its debts to Florence, and the middle section requires some tricky metrics in fanfare style. Typically, Tchaikovsky combines both impulses in a display of (German) counterpoint. Tchaikovsky’s need to fulfill the “academic” requirements of Classical form touch no less his final movement, Allegro vivace, with its grand fugue, for which the composer held due pride.  He had utilized many of the same procedures in his Op. 48 Serenade. The main theme of the finale leans to pentatonic scales, somewhat reminiscent of the gypsy style in Liszt. When we consider the constraints and tension Tchaikovsky had suffered contemporaneously, in the production of his opera The Queen of Spades, the Souvenir sounds like a “symphonic” burst of creative liberation.

Critics concur that, of all three of Tchaikovsky’s string quartets, the Third Quartet cries for symphonic treatment, here realized by Misha Rachlevsky in 1992. Composed in 1876, the quartet served as a memorial for Czech violinist Ferdinand Laub. Critic Cesar Cui found the work meretricious, “an ugly actress who attracts attention because of skillful makeup and splendid attire.”  But fellow composer Glazunov found the Andante funebre e doloroso worthy of his own orchestration. After a heavy, gloomy Andante sostenuto, the expansive Allegro moderato first movement flows in melodic sequences that bears a family resemblance to the Fourth Symphony. Once more, counterpoint plays a significant part in Tchaikovsky’s developmental procedure.

The interior movements follow the same floor plan as Chopin’s Op. 35 Sonata, with the funereal march third movement.  The Scherzando – sounding a bit like the later Nutcracker ballet, second movement, exploits quick shifts in registration and from varying octaves, with many sforzato designations. Under conductor Rachlevsky, the music moves in gossamer streaks of mercury. A “royal” fanfare opens the funeral march, followed by a plaintive theme and its often dissonant underpinnings. The affect closely resembles the dirge we find in the Piano Trio in memory of Nicholas Rubinstein.  The pastoral middle section recalls, as does Chopin in his Sonata, happier memories, often in chromatic counterpoint. The last pages intimate fateful riffs from Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” Quartet.  The finale, Allegro risoluto, has the patented Russian dance element, employing stretti and polyphonic devices.  Tchaikovsky, if my ears do not deceive me, follows a sonata-rondo structure similar to those in his favorite Mozart and Haydn works; and often, the sonorities echo those in Dvorak. The last thrust of the rondo theme follows elegiac bars that prefigure the e minor Symphony.

The Melodrama from the youthful (1873) score for The Snow Maiden by Ostrovsky depicts Kupava’s complaint of her lover’s infidelity, music simultaneously dolorous and hopeful. Here, we feel the opposite urge: to hear this intimate music played as a string quartet.

—Gary Lemco


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