TCHAIKOVSKY Serenade for strings. Souvenir de Florence
Tchaikovsky adored the city of Florence, returning there throughout his lifetime, paying tribute in his sextet Souvenir de Florence. He paid homage to his other great love – Mozart – in the beautiful, jewel-like Serenade for Strings. ‘I am violently in love with this work and cannot wait for it to be played,’ he wrote to Nadezhda von Meck. They’re frequent partners on disc, with Souvenir in a string-orchestra arrangement over which I harbour doubts. The Russian Virtuosi of Europe, a young ensemble formed in 2004, present these two gems on their debut disc. Meanwhile, cellist Jan Vogler teams up with colleagues – the Moritzburg Festival Ensemble – to present the Souvenir in sextet form, a lively partner to Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations.
I much prefer the sextet version of Souvenir, where the abrasiveness of one-to-a-part gives the work more vigour than the bright sheen of multiple strings. Vogler and friends deliver an exciting account, heightened by lean, wiry strings. The ebullient Allegro con spirito launches with gusto, while the Adagio cantabile sings. Vogler’s ensemble perform with great panache – not quite with the authority of the Borodin Quartet (Elatus, 1/94) – but a tremendously enjoyable performance.
Some chamber orchestra versions sound like a glossy Ferrari roaring down the autostrada. The RVE offer something of a ‘halfway house’ – just 18 strings, which means the excessively souped-up sound of a full symphony orchestra’s string section is avoided. This is a pleasant performance, the gentle pizzicato accompaniment to the Adagio cantabile a feather bed for a lovely violin solo (presumably ensemble director Yuri Zhislin). They catch the bustling central section of the third movement well.
Tchaikovsky’s Serenade is a joyous work, but wistful too, especially if you know Balanchine’s ballet. One immediately notices the RVE’s firm, resonant sound, in a brisk, businesslike performance, cleanly articulated. The Waltz trips along delicately, not smothered in French polish, and it’s good to hear the Elégie truly start pianissimo; it flows a little too swiftly though – there’s pathos in this music. They don’t always match the panache of the Vienna Chamber Orchestra but this is a promising debut disc.
Vogler’s Sony disc centres on a spruce account of the Rococo Variations, where he combines Wilhelm Fitzenhagen’s version with the original, introducing the final variation (cut by Fitzenhagen) as Var 3b. His playing is agile and graceful, but the Frankfurt Radio Symphony are a little more earthbound than ideal. Concertante works pinched from the violin repertory complete the programme.