Symphony no.3 Op.75 (1995-2002)
Symphony no.7 Op.139 ‘Quarantine Symphony’ (2020)
Siberian Symphony Orchestra / Dmitry Vasiliev
Toccata Classics TOCC0587 [60’12”]
Producer Vadim Dedik
Engineer Adaq Kahn
Recorded in live performances: 19 May 2019 (Symphony no.3), 20 September 2020 (Symphony no.7) at Philharmonic Hall, Omsk
Written by Richard Whitehouse
What’s the story?
Toccata Classics continues to investigate those paths lesser trod with this first instalment of symphonies by Alexander Tchaikovsky, likely the leading composer of the older generation in Russia, whose music is directly and audibly in the lineage of his geographical forebears.
What’s the music like?
Born in Moscow in 1946, Alexander Tchaikovsky is a nephew of composer and pianist Boris – but, in contrast to the latter’s selective output, has built an extensive catalogue featuring 14 operas (in addition to operettas and musicals) and three ballets, alongside numerous concertos and (to date) seven symphonies that frequently evince an illustrative or at least programmatic aspect. This is borne out in music highly evocative in import if without loss of that formal or expressive focus needed to sustain the two, wholly different, abstract arguments pursued here.
With its lengthy gestation and opulent instrumentation, the Third Symphony is a key work in the composer’s output. Its minimalist aspects occasioned more by Nielsen or Prokofiev than any post-war figure, the initial Allegro opens stealthily as its main theme gradually comes to the fore – tension increasing through a series of dissonant outbursts towards a massive climax across the orchestra that subsides into a sombre close. The central Allegro molto is described as ‘‘essentially a sequence of waltzes’’, which indicates its motion but not its stark emotional contrasts and violent denouement. It remains for the final Andante, proceeding without pause, to attempt a reconciliation; its furtive gestures opening-out onto a sustained expression whose restive and volatile content does not pre-empt the inexorability of the waltz music at the close.
Its title referring to the COVID-19 pandemic that occasioned its compact design and smaller forces (strings with percussion and piano), the Seventh Symphony comprises two movements. The first of these alternates between a plaintive Andante and trenchant Allegro molto, which latter gradually comes to the fore in a conclusion of unbridled abandon. Almost twice as long, the Adagio unfolds on the lines of a ‘prelude and fugue’ – the initial section sustaining a rapt eloquence that is intensified after the strings’ airy ascent and the commencement of the fugue in its methodical while deeply felt progress towards a fervent close. It is worth noting that the composer himself contracted the virus soon after completing this work – and which duly led to his missing the premiere in Omsk – but from which he has fortunately made a full recovery.
Does it all work?
For the most part, yes. This is music governed by the impulses as brought it to fruition, such that its underlying logic can be difficult to discern even on repeated hearings, while ensuring that a sense of destination – and arrival thereat – is never absent. The playing of the Siberian Symphony Orchestra is up to the standards of earlier releases for this label, Dmitry Vasiliev bringing a discipline and cumulative momentum to the often lengthy individual movements. There is little evidence of audience ‘presence’ in what are designated as live performances.
Is it recommended?
Indeed. The sound conveys the impact of these symphonies (the Third in particular) with no lack of immediacy, and there are insightful notes by pianist and composer Jonathan Powell. Hopefully more volumes of Alexander Tchaikovsky’s orchestral music will be forthcoming.
You can discover more about this release at the Toccata Classics website, where you can also purchase the recording. You can read more about Alexander Tchaikovsky here, and more about conductor Dmitry Vasiliev here