BORODIN; GLAZUNOV; ARENSKY Chamber Music
Borodin got in ahead of his critics by admitting candidly that his String Sextet was ‘very Mendelssohnian’, excusing himself on the grounds that it was ‘written to please the Germans’, not something Russian composers are usually in a hurry to do. It is in fact a most attractively written piece, Mendelssohnian indeed in the fleet-footed opening Allegro but with a particular melodic elegance, in the closing Andante as well as in this Allegro, and a quick-wittedness that are entirely his own.
There are also touches of Tchaikovsky, whose memory is wholeheartedly saluted in Arensky’s work, a string quartet for the unusual combination of violin, viola and two cellos. It is also unusually organised to include allusions to Tchaikovsky’s Third String Quartet (itself an elegiac work for his violinist friend Ferdinand Laub), a skilfully worked set of variations on Tchaikovsky’s song known in English as ‘Christ had a garden’, a chant from the Orthodox Requiem, and the popular folk melody ‘Slava bogu’, which turns up in Boris Godunov and Beethoven’s Second ‘Rasumovsky’ Quartet. If this all sounds something of a shambles, it is held together by Arensky’s fluency and charm, not to mention his skilful ear (and that of the sound engineers here) in not making the textures sound too thick. He did later arrange the piece for conventional string quartet but he brings the original off well, and it is rewarding to hear. Glazunov’s Quintet, written with two cellos, perhaps in hopes of finding programme room alongside Schubert’s String Quintet, is much more conventional but it is elegantly handled here by the admirable Nash Players. An original and attractive record.