On record – Alexander Tchaikovsky: Orchestral Music Volume One (Siberian Symphony Orchestra / Dmitry Vasiliev) (Toccata Classics)

alexander-tchaikovsky

Alexander Tchaikovsky
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.

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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

On record: Steve Elcock: Orchestral Music, Volume Two (Toccata)

Steve Elcock
Incubus Op.28 (2017)
Haven: Fantasia on a Theme by J.S. Bach Op.4 (1995, rev. 2011-17)
Symphony no.5 Op.21 (2014)

Siberian Symphony Orchestra / Dmitry Vasiliev

Producer/Engineer Sergei Zhiganov
Recorded 8-12 July 2019, Philharmonic Hall, Omsk

Toccata Classics TOCC0445 [77’20”]

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Toccata Classics continues its coverage of Steve Elcock (b1957) with this second instalment of orchestral music – dominated by the Fifth Symphony with provocative allusions to its most famous predecessor, together with shorter yet distinctive pieces from either end of his output.

What’s the music like?

Although it marks a return to the four-movement format of his first two such works, the Fifth Symphony is hardly conventional in formal or expressive follow through. As with the almost contemporaneous Fifth by the late Christopher Rouse, the presence of that archetypal ‘No. 5’ feels undeniable – even more so given Elcock’s explicit referencing at the start of each outer movement; a head-on approach hardly less confrontational than that with Beethoven Nine in Tippett’s Third Symphony a half-century ago. In all other respects, Elcock goes entirely his own way: the visceral charge of that beginning quickly subsides into an opening movement whose restive searching seems becalmed emotionally while not tonally, as the music strives increasingly to regain its initial energy before relapsing into a mood of pervasive desolation.

The next two movements unfold without pause as a contrasting duality. As its title suggests, the Ostinato builds explosive impetus over a remorseless rhythmic motto that climactically implodes to leave a musing clarinet melody as expands into the ensuing Canzonetta. Less a slow movement than extended intermezzo, what might have brought a return to the earlier sombreness rather assumes a more compassionate aura that makes possible the final Allegro. Comparable to the first movement in its scale, this unfolds as a sonata design of unflagging dynamism whose twin themes are drawn into a process of continuous development on route to a peroration which, though it could hardly evince the triumph of Beethoven, is never less than affirmative in its bringing the work decisively and, moreover, demonstrably full circle.

A notable achievement, then – less ruggedly distinctive if ultimately more cohesive than the Third Symphony (recorded on TOCC0400), and evidently a statement with which to reckon. It is preceded here by two pieces that further attest to the consistency of Elcock’s underlying vision. Haven: Fantasia on a Theme by J.S. Bach takes the Sarabande from the First Violin Partita as basis for a series less of variations than of paraphrases such as pass from nostalgia, through militaristic brutality, to renewed concord with the theme newly explicit at the close. Derived from a recent string quartet, Incubus is a study in nocturnal imaginings – ostensibly the result of insomnia – which seems predictable only in its marshalling a disparate range of ideas into a taut ‘curtain raiser’ whose outcome is the more telling for being so unexpected.

Does it all work?

It does. Just occasionally taxed in those more demonstrative passages, the Siberian Symphony Orchestra otherwise yields little to the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic as to the conviction of its playing, with Dmitry Vasiliev demonstrating an absolute grasp of Elcock’s combative musical vision.

Is it recommended?

It is. Orchestral sound has commendable heft and perspective, while Francis Pott’s extensive annotations situate all three pieces within an appropriately wide context. Hopefully Elcock’s Fourth Symphony will feature on the next volume in what is an absorbing and valuable series.

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For further information, audio clips and purchase information visit the Toccata Classics website. For more on Steve Elcock you can visit the composer’s website