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Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 – 1893)
Rococo Variations for cello and orchestra Op. 33 (1876)
Souvenir de Florence sextet for strings, chamber version (1892)
Mstislav Rostropovich, cello
Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra/Gennadi Rozhdestvensky
Borodin String Quartet.
No date or location given. ADD
CDK CDKM 1001 [53.19]

This disc contains two major works by Tchaikovsky for cello and orchestra, and for String Sextet. Due to the lack of information supplied by CDK I cannot say who is the missing player from the Souvenir de Florence, nor do I have any recording information, including playing times. CDK has a fair bit to learn about CD presentation, but the most important part is the music being supplied, and I have absolutely no qualms about this. In the RED Catalogue there is a performance which could be the same one, recorded in 1980, where the additional soloist is Genrikh Talalyan. It is on Melodiya – a double album of Tchaikovsky’s chamber works. I am not sure whether the RCA/Melodiya recordings are still available, given BMG’s aggressive deletion policy.

This time, unlike the previous disc containing the two ballet suites, at least the various movements are tracked, although the Rococo Variations are banded as one. Others in the current catalogue band each variation separately.

Rostropovich’s interpretation of this piece is well known, and this version is very true to form. I cannot think of anyone who would not be enthralled by this performance of the variations. Rozhdestvensky’s accompaniment with the then Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra is first rate. This is not music which requires a deep interpretation from the orchestra, but it helps if your soloist is someone having the virtuosity of a Rostropovich.

Tchaikovsky wrote the Rococo Variations for the St. Petersburg Chamber Music Society, and it was produced in two forms, one for cello and small orchestra and the second for cello and piano. This disc has the first of these versions recorded. It was commissioned by Wilhelm Fitzenhagen, and he edited the solo part extensively. The premiere was in Moscow in 1877, conducted by Nikolay Rubinstein.

The Variations were written at about the same time as Francesca da Rimini. Both these pieces are quite different in character. Tchaikovsky’s admiration of the Italian Renaissance, Dante, Mozart and Russian folk music is clear although these ‘voices’ are quite disparate in both works.

The Souvenir de Florence was written for the St. Petersburg Chamber Music Society, after Tchaikovsky had been elected an honorary member of the Society, and he had promised them a composition. He wrote this after completion of The Queen of Spades, whilst in Florence.

Again the sextet is in two versions, a chamber orchestra version and the second, for string sextet for two violins, two violas and two cellos, was completed in 1890. The richness of this complement gave an almost orchestral richness and was extremely popular and received many performances in its early years. The sextet version is the one recorded here.

This performance is superb, with all six instrumentalists expertly balanced by the recording engineers. These performances are highly recommended.

John Phillips



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