Shchedrin Concertos for Orchestra Nos 4 and 5

Shchedrin’s colourful Concertos for Orchestra, well performed and recorded

Author: 
John Warrack

Shchedrin Concertos for Orchestra Nos 4 and 5

  • Concerto for Orchestra No 4, 'Khorovody'
  • Concerto for Orchestra No 5, 'Four Russian Songs'
  • Kristaliene Gusli, 'Crystal Psaltery'

Rodion Shchedrin’s long and varied worklist includes five Concertos for Orchestra, a form (if it can be called that) which suits much in his manner. It is above all his ear for orchestral colour that dominates, as he himself has pointed out in connection with the Fifth, subtitled Four Russian Songs, a piece written for the entertainment of Proms audiences in 1989. The suggestion is that a troika speeds between four Russian cities, “collecting” a different song from each. The progress is vivid and lively, and the songs (three of them, of Shchedrin’s own invention) are really an excuse for a dazzling display of orchestral invention. Much the same is true of the Fourth Concerto, Khorovody, a khorovod being the Russian version of the round dance common in most Eastern European folklores. Some of the sounds are faintly weird – a recorder against flute players blowing into their mouthpieces – but Shchedrin’s gift ensures that the ear is constantly beguiled. How much lies beneath his somewhat minimalist approach, with long strings of ostinatos or simply repeated notes introducing or underpinning the magical sounds, is questionable. But the idea is recognisably Russian, not so much thematic development as melodies circling over varied repetition, as Russians have enjoyed in many different ways ever since Glinka.

Kristallene Gusli applies this delicacy of ear to the more avant-garde kind of music characteristic of Shchedrin’s friend Takemitsu, something that can come to seem to be refined almost out of existence. Kirill Karabits and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra do brilliantly with it all, and so, crucially, do the recording engineers in capturing all the delicate and original sounds.

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