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Russian songs arranged for violin and orchestra by PETER BREINER

Takako Nishizaki (violin), Queensland Symphony Orchestra / Peter Breiner]
rec 1994, ABC Studios, Brisbane, Australia
NAXOS 8.555331 [61.09]
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This disc is a feast of fun. A Japanese violinist plays Russian folksongs arranged by a Slovak accompanied by a leading Australian orchestra. The recipe could be as bland as "international cuisine", but instead we're offered a tasty selection of familiar Russian morsels in arrangements which delight the aural palate and tease the intellect.

Takako Nishizaki will be a familiar name to regular Naxos listeners. Her recording of the Butterfly Lovers Concerto has sold more than three million copies in China while that of the Four Seasons has almost topped one million worldwide. She has more than 100 CDs to her name.

Peter Breiner, who here conducts the excellent Queensland Symphony Orchestra, has arranged twelve Russian songs in a variety of styles. The selection opens with "Snow Flurries" by early nineteenth century composer Alexander Varlamov. Breiner starts by giving us a straightforward Russian arrangement but near the end it takes a wrong turning and ends up in a baroque fugue.

Breiner springs a few surprises on us. "Moscow Nights" - familiar as the callsign of the old Radio Moscow - is given an extended treatment of over five minutes. "Stenka Razin" is the original of the song better known as in the West as "The Carnival is over". "Meadowland" is a highly dramatic arrangement of one of those archetypical Russian melodies that everyone knows and no-one can name. In this case it comes originally from Lev Knipper's Fourth Symphony. The "Song of the Volga Boatmen" is equally familiar, but did Tchaikovsky realise that it works in near-perfect counterpoint with the opening of his Fifth Symphony? This arrangement, at almost seven minutes, is Breiner's tour de force.

A folksong, familiar from Stravinsky's Petrouchka, rounds off a pleasant hour of listening. Breiner's arrangement of "Along the Peterskaya Road" (also known as "Down the Petersky") is delightful, subtle in its orchestra effects, and beautifully played by Takako Nishizaki.

Naxos's recording is both warm and clear, and well-balanced between soloist and orchestra.

Chris Goddard

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