ARENSKY Chamber Symphony TCHAIKOVSKY Serenade
Robin Holloway remarked that everything in Tchaikovsky’s work truest to his genius ‘aspires to the condition of ballet’: a perception finely conveyed by the Amsterdam Sinfonietta on a recording of the Serenade full of quick and graceful movement, most of all in the heightened tension and suppressed drama of the Andante, where only the smallest effort of the imagination brings to mind Siegfried and Odette on her lake of tears. The waltz speaks for itself, with the utmost simplicity and charm, while the more extended structures of the outer movements are borne aloft by unaffected rubato and a light-footed bass section.
The album was announced over four and a half years ago in this magazine but, like Iván Fischer’s latest Beethoven instalment for Channel Classics (see page 67), the delay speaks of no hesitation on the part of the musicians. Having worked for over a decade and a half under their leader Candida Thompson, now using markedly less vibrato than on their 2003 recording of the Souvenir de Florence (6/04), the Sinfonietta violins are as sweet and silky as one could wish for in the high-lying stretches of the first movement of the Second Quartet by Arensky, without entirely banishing misgivings over the part’s suitability for transcription. The dynamic range of both ensemble and discreetly resonant recording in the first movement defies one’s best efforts to listen beneath the theme and into the busy textures. Distributing the inner parts between violins, violas and cellos makes musical sense but at a cost to the original’s special, cello-heavy colouring, best appreciated on the Nash Ensemble’s recording (Onyx, 8/12).
This movement and the finale have been freshly arranged by Marijn van Prooijen to enclose and complement Arensky’s own version of the central elegiac variations on a theme of his teacher Tchaikovsky. Here and in the Serenade some collectors may miss the fuzzy embrace or Russian soul of warmer ensembles such as the Moscow Soloists and the ASMF, but collectors who have enjoyed the Sinfonietta’s recent takes on Brahms (9/11, A/18) will enjoy their cleaned-up Tchaikovsky.