Boris Tchaikovsky – no relation – belongs to that generation of Soviet composers falling between Shostakovich (one of his teachers) and Kabalevsky on the one hand and Schnittke and Gubaidulina on the other. Born into a musical family, the young Boris saw his musical language reach maturity in the years following World War II; he then joined the many of his compatriot composers in making a living from writing for the theatre, for film and for television. Such a background immediately lends his ‘serious’ compositions an accessibility and appeal which could perhaps be generally described as having something of the ‘Shostakovich-without-the-angst’ about them.
The Sinfonietta for Strings of 1953 is the earliest work on this disc. Its four movements are laid out on traditional lines and share much of their harmonic language with Shostakovich’s early quartets. The six tightly focused movements of the 1967 Chamber Symphony betray the influence of Britten (unusual for this period in Soviet Russia) and Panufnik; hints of intrigue, even unease, disturb otherwise literal responses to the movement titles. This fascination with the ‘perfectly formed miniature’ finds its apogee in the numerous sets of studies in Tchaikovsky’s output. In the Six Études for Organ and String Orchestra of 1976 any hint of the florid or the self-indulgent is scrupulously avoided, making for a remarkable demonstration of the ‘power of the unsaid’.
This disc concludes with the short Prelude ‘The Bells’, one of Boris Tchaikovsky’s last works and perhaps an expression of his attachment to the Orthodox Church, his scepticism of the avant garde direction being taken by contemporary music, and his commitment to the preservation of a true Russian musical tradition. The more-or-less complete short score has been completed by one of Tchaikovsky’s composer-colleagues, Pyotr Klimov.
Boris Tchaikovsky is a fine composer who died a few years ago (1996) and who contributed prolifically to the Russian musical scene of the post War period right up to the fall of Communism. This disc covers the period 1953-76 with three substantial works and a short posthumous Prelude that was orchestrated after Tchaikovsky's death by his pupil, Pyotr Klimov.
The Sinfonietta is in four movements and it is rather indebted to Prokofiev and Shostakovich for its deep introspective rhythms although you can sense that the composer has not yet found his spiritual roots. The Chamber Symphony from 1967 is definitely a massive leap forward and here one can sense the deep atonal overtones that lie behind the heart of the music. This is tough music to negotiate but those who like this sort of intellectual challenge will not be disappointed.
Tchaikovsky's Six Etudes for Strings and Organ were written in 1976, the year of Shostakovich's death and they are definitely challenging, especially the inner movements. Again, I would only recommend this to seasoned experts of avant garde Russian music such as those who enjoy Schnittke, Silvestrov or Gubaidulina. Hyperion present copious and extremely well written notes by David Fanning and the interpretations by Rudin and the Musica Viva Chamber Orchestra are definitely beyond reproach.
Classical Net, 2004
Born in 1925, Boris Tchaikovsky (no connection whatsoever with Pyotr Ilyich, but the uncle of the composer-pianist Alexander) entered the Moscow Conservatory in 1941. The outbreak of the war put a stop to his studies which were resumed in 1944. There he studied composition with Shebalin, Shostakovich and Myaskovsky as well as piano with Lev Oborin. After graduation he did some piano teaching and was later an editor at a radio station (1949-1952), composing in his spare time. His fairly sizeable output includes four symphonies, six string quartets composed between 1954 and 1976, four concertos (clarinet, 1957; cello, 1964; violin, 1969 and piano, 1971) as well as a number of film scores and of incidental music. He died in 1996. He thus belongs to the generation situated between that of Shostakovich and that of Denisov, Schnittke, Gubaidulina and Silvestrov. In 1948, Shostakovich and many of his colleagues were accused of "Formalism", whatever this may mean, so that Tchaikovsky had to adjust to the prevailing political-cultural climate, without compromising himself in writing music along the lines of so-called Socialist Realism. He opted for another way out, as did Lutoslawski in Poland, by composing folk-inflected music and by adopting Neo-classicism, although many characteristics of his music do not really fit into that mould. Although he seemed to have found his musical path fairly early in his composing career, he often deviated from the all-too-easy ready-made Neo-classical idiom. The works recorded here make that absolutely clear. He resolutely rejected dodecaphony or serialism. He also used musical quotes in some of his works, such as in the Second Symphony of 1967 with quotations from Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Schumann. The symphony caused quite a stir at the time.
The fine Sinfonietta for Strings, the earliest work here, might still be labelled as Neo-classical, the music harking back to Bridge and Britten as well as to Shostakovich. It is superbly written for strings, quite attractive and richly melodic. However, some harmonic side-steps may already be spotted here and there. Some unexpected harmonic twists are more in evidence in the Chamber Symphony of 1967, a suite rather than a miniature symphony. The six movements are laid-out as a sets of etudes or sketches rather than as a tightly argued symphonic whole. The second (Unison), third (Chorale music) and fourth (Interlude) movements are fairly short, whereas the other movements are more developed. The fifth movement (March motifs) is reminiscent of Shostakovich, particularly because of the tongue-in-cheek working out of the basic material and of some dissonant, almost cluster-like textures. The final movement (Serenade) opens deceptively enough, as an innocuous serenade, but the easy-going mood of this section is then contradicted by a more animated section. Both sections are repeated with some variations, and the movement ends with a final varied restatement of the opening section. The whole work is also a good example of Tchaikovsky’s musical thinking often characterised by understatement. Still more so, I think, in the Six Etudes for strings and organ and not the other way round, mind you. This is actually a work for strings with some support from the organ that is used quite discretely throughout, without any real attempt at developing the organ part. This often very beautiful work is also – on the whole – rather enigmatic, but not to the same extent as the late Prelude "The Bells" left in short score at the time of the composer’s death and expertly and subtly orchestrated by Pyotr Klimov. The insert notes do not say much about this short piece, so that it is hard to say whether it was meant to stand on its own or whether it was to be part of a larger work, whether it has something to do with Poe’s poem or not. Anyway, it beautifully rounds-off this superb release devoted to a most distinguished composer who, in politically difficult times, managed to remain true to himself without compromising, and whose honest and sincere music commands respect.
These excellent, meticulously prepared readings are warmly recorded, and the production is again up to Hyperion’s best. Recommended.
Musicweb, October 2004
A student of Shostakovich, Shebalin, and Myaskovsky, Boris Tchaikovsky (1925–1996 and no relation) became a favored Soviet compositional son during the later LP years. His Symphony No. 2 was recorded by the Moscow Philharmonic under the direction of Kondrashin, and the same forces were joined by Victor Pikaizen for the Violin Concerto. Tchaikovsky himself conducted and performed in his Piano Concerto. Other recordings offered his Cello Concerto, Piano Quintet, several string quartets, various sonatas, and the Chamber Symphony that also appears on this CD. But the CD era has been less kind to Tchaikovsky (save for Olympia, whose catalog of reissues is out-of-print). Schnittke and Gubaidulina have become cult favorites and drawn the attention of record companies, throwing composers of arguably equal talent and vision like Tchaikovsky into the shade.
This release provides a good overview of the composer’s development, starting during his early post-graduate years, and concluding with a work found at his death, largely in short score. (The Prelude was orchestrated by Pyotr Klimov.) The Sinfonietta is Shostakovich-without-tears, a solid, tuneful work espousing good counterpoint and attractive writing for the strings. Let’s remember when Tchaikovsky wrote it: shortly before the unanticipated death of Stalin, during a time when nearly all composers feared for their careers in light of the 1948 anti-formalist crusade, and took their personalities underground. Yet the Sinfonietta is surprisingly rich in detail, while the requisite Soviet Boy Scout optimism of the final movement is certainly less empty-headed than that found in many similar published works of the period.
The Chamber Symphony is made of sterner stuff, during a period of relative cultural thaw. David Fanning, in his excellent liner notes, refers to its contents as “tightly focused, wiry and determined in character,” but it’s also inventive in its deployment of sonorities, and rather schizophrenic: the first two movements are only tangentially tonal, while the fourth and sixth bring to mind the neo-Classic banter of Stravinsky and Martinu. The forms of the Chamber Symphony’s six movements are frequently and deliberately Baroque—the opening Sonata and following Unison movements have the character of French Preludes, while the harpsichord furnishes a glittering cascade in the bass punctuated by the lower strings in the Interlude. March Motifs starts out sounding like a Baroque hunting call, only to move into the satirical territory occupied by late Shostakovich. The final Serenade veers between wit and bland sentiment in a decidedly ambiguous manner that brings no easy conclusion. Post-modernism? Such an ugly word for a concept that is by no means new. But Tchaikovsky was clearly exploring multi-stylistic territory in 1967 that others a generation or more later would claim as their own discovery.
The austerely evocative Six Etudes again play havoc with the illusion of linear time and musical styles. The first recalls late Shostakovich, and the second, Bartók. The third etude, with its walking octaves in unison or inversion, bring to mind at first the Ars Subtilior composers of the 14th century, while the fifth is a meditation that recalls the Baroque even as its repetitive figurations look ahead to minimalism. The final Prelude, “The Bells,” offers a blend of lyrical melody, luminous orchestration, and slightly quirky harmonies that could almost have originated in a Prokofiev ballet.
The performances are distinguished and well balanced, but ultimately too sedate for my tastes. Rudin and his musicians scale back the acerbic harmonies of the Six Etudes. They also downplay the juxtaposition of sharply differing tempos and sonorities, and the sharp swings of mood that dominate the Chamber Symphony. In the latter work, Rudolf Barshai and the Moscow Chamber Orchestra were far superior on a long-deleted Melodiya LP. In the relatively shallow waters of the Sinfonietta, their approach brings dividends, but I can’t help thinking the Musica Viva’s genteel reticence does Tchaikovsky’s furious energy less than full justice.
Despite these reservations, I can’t refuse a recommendation for this disc. There’s precious little enough available of Boris Tchaikovsky, and I’m not about to turn thumbs down on a reasonably decent performance in excellent sound. One hopes there will be more of this music to follow, with musicians more sensitive to the composer and less interested in displaying their silken tone.
Fanfare Magazine, November-December 2004
To my mind, the Boris Tchaikovsky Sinfonietta is one of the finest works for string orchestra anyone ever composed. Okay, it doesn’t go to the world-troubling depths of the Vaughan Williams Tallis Fantasia —perhaps the greatest work for strings ever written—but it can look the Dvorák and Tchaikovsky Serenades straight in the eye. (That Tchaikovsky was no relation, before you ask.) Listen to the last chord in the first movement of this Sinfonietta—straight out of the Vaughan Williams! What makes the Boris Tchaikovsky Sinfonietta so special is its limitless melodic appeal: written in 1953, when the composer was 27, it abounds with tunes that melt your heart. The opening Sonatina declares from the start this will be a work of utter freshness; the second-movement Waltz is irresistibly charming; and the variations that form the third movement are based on a tune that melts the heart from its first bar. The perky, bustling rondo-finale brings echoes of the Holberg Suite —but then, I guess the very combination of scoring and brisk tempo would do that, anyway.
I first came across the Tchaikovsky Sinfonietta in Vladimir Fedoseyev’s Melodiya recording (since reissued) with the USSR TV and Radio Large Symphony Orchestra, made in 1986. This far less sentimental reading—Rudin is much more concerned with detail and clarity than with the Romantic sweep of Fedoseyev’s account—shows the work in a completely different light. It’s tidier, less sentimental, more neo-Classical; it took me a while to get used to it, and I still miss Fedoseyev’s passionate urgency, but there’s a dry-eyed sincerity to this reading that also commands attention. The most important thing is the music, of course, and if you don’t know this score, I urge you to grab this recording hurriedly: for a mixture of unhurried lyricism, gentle good humor, capable but lightly handled counterpoint, you’ll find it hard to beat.
The Chamber Symphony of 1967 is a world away from the Sinfonietta: you wouldn’t know it was the same composer—not to begin with, at least, in the dissonant downward lurchings of the opening Sonata, where (the mark of the typical Russian, this) the music evokes bells. The Chamber Symphony is wiry, spiky, informed with a grim sense of humor plainly derived from Shostakovich, especially late Shostakovich—Tchaikovsky was one of his favorite pupils—and yet every so often a plaintive, angular tenderness will break through, as in the third movement, Chorale Music. Stylistically, it’s not hard to see this Tchaikovsky on a continuum between Shostakovich and Schnittke, with the ironically heightened textural contrasts in the fifth-movement March Motifs also pointing to a sympathy with the music of another Shostakovich student, Boris Tishchenko.
With the Six Études for Strings and Organ of 1976 we are in another sound world again, with every hint of excess rigorously pruned away, the music inching forward in tiny motivic cells, the sparest of counterpoints, barest of harmonies; “The power of the unsaid radiates from the understated organ part,” writes David Fanning in his well-informed notes. Every so often, the music makes some kind of gesture to break from the stasis: the third movement attempts a climax of sorts, and unleashes a Schnittkean wall of stabbing sound; the fourth Fanning describes as “a kind of failed toccata.” In the fifth, rather oddly, Tchaikovsky takes up the easeful, gently drifting manner of recent Rautavaara, sinking into a soothing coda. The repeated patterns (Griegian here, too) of the last Étude wave it all a gently ironic goodbye.
The gentle postlude is in fact a prelude labeled “The Bells.” It must be his last work: it was sketched in 1996, and he died in February of that year; the orchestration is by Pyotr Klimov (b. 1970). It rocks tenderly forward under the delicate chimes of bells on B ? and D. As sweet an epitaph as any composer could wish.
A fascinating release. Not all the music here is as immediately communicative as the Sinfonietta—indeed, the two other main pieces are intended not to be—but all four works have something primary to say, and there’s not a dishonest note here. Committed performances from Alexander Rudin and his Musica Viva Chamber Orchestra—in music that (at least as far as the larger two of the late works are concerned) cannot be easy to bring off. But they manage it handsomely. The Chamber Symphony and the Six Études are well worth your attention; the Sinfonietta you gotta know.
Fanfare Magazine, January-February 2005