Tchaikovsky Chamber Orchestral Works
James Judd's Tchaikovsky coupling is one of those records where the performances are simple and unidiosyncratic, yet everything seems to go right. The Serenade has a strong, spacious introduction and the Allegro sets off at a true moderato, with the dancing second subject played very neatly, its accents lightly pointed. The easy tempo seems just right when the playing is so naturally spontaneous. The ''Waltz'' has a comparable elegant directness although not a great deal of allure, but there is a blossoming of romantic warmth in the Larghetto elegiaco, which is played with considerable feeling. The finale is beautifully prepared and has vitality and bustle without being rushed.
The Mozartiana Suite (based on works by Mozart) is no less felicitous. Tchaikovsky's transcriptions of the four pieces that make up the work do not greatly alter the piano originals, except to add characteristic orchestral colour. However, it is surprising how romantic this makes the music sound, and the final set of Mozartian variations—a form in which the Russian composer himself so excelled—is made remarkably personal by the choice of instrumentation.
Judd conducts the work very stylishly. The opening ''Gigue'' is graceful and light-textured, the ''Menuet'' elegant and the ''Preghiera'' romantic without being sugary, the strings in the two last mentioned pieces producing radiant textures. The ''Theme et Variations'' is most infectious, the detail of Tchaikovsky's scoring winningly presented. Tempos throughout are quite admirable and the sound is excellent, bright and fresh, and with a pleasing ambience. As an encore we are offered the famous Andante cantabile, again beautifully played, and not over-ripe in feeling. The effect is refreshing.
Entremont's readings have a higher profile than Judd's and in the first movement of the Serenade there is rather more thrust (he saves 20 seconds overall). The secondary theme is vivaciously volatile with accents crisply pointed, the running passages bringing individual touches of detail.
The ''Waltz'' is treated more romantically, with the repeated tenuto more obviously sustained, though not indulged. The ''Elegie'' has plenty of ardour and the finale, again well prepared, has its energy emphasized with biting rhythmic feeling; here Judd is fractionally faster, but Entremont is bracingly invigorating, though some may like a lighter touch here.
The Naxos coupling is a major addition to the catalogue, for it includes a fine, passionate account of the Souvenir de Florence. Originally conceived for string sextet, Tchaikovsky found he had some problems with the internal balance. Played by a chamber orchestra it sounds superb. Edward Seckerson had considerable doubts about the only other current CD version of this work, by I Musici di Montreal under Yuli Turovsky: ''The chilly acoustic of L'Eglise de Ste Madeleine, Montreal, doesn't exactly help matters, but even so I have heard sunnier and more exuberant accounts''. There is no lack of exuberance in the way Entremont handles the dashing principal theme which opens the first movement, and he captures equally well the bitter-sweet wistfulness of the main secondary idea (a charmingly memorable inspiration). The finale, too, has a swinging tune which remains obstinately in the memory, and the Vienna Chamber Orchestra play it with infectious gusto. The Adagio opens darkly, then brings a lovely cantilena floated over pizzicato accompaniment, and this is played with graceful delicacy. Later, the VCO shows its sonority in the chordal statement that comes before the engaging, rustling scherzando leading to the violin-and-cello duet, where the orchestra's principals have a chance to shine. The Allegretto brings Russian folk ideas of Tchaikovsky's best vintage (the tunes really do come tumbling out in profusion in this marvellous 34-minute work) and Entremont and his players combine ardour with crisp, sonorous ensemble at the climax.
The playing is really very good throughout this performance and the orchestra brings every bar to life. The digital recording gives plenty of body and presence to the string group, with a fairly bright but not excessively lit treble. At its modest cost, this inexpensive disc is worth getting for the Souvenir de Florence alone.'