The second half of the 19th century witnessed a proliferation of significant works for strings alone (a hitherto unusual genre) including the Serenades for Strings by Dvořaìk (1875) and Tchaikovsky (1880) and Grieg’s Holberg Suite (1884), followed by a trio of works for strings in 1892 from Suk, Wolf and Elgar.
Tchaikovsky’s music for string instruments is notable for its range and consistency – and this culminates in the magnificent Violin Concerto and one of the greatest works ever conceived for string orchestra, his Serenade of 1880.
Earlier, in 1873, Tchaikovsky wrote incidental music to Ostrovsky’s three-act drama The Snow Maiden. Though he abandoned the idea of adapting it into an opera, when Rimsky-Korsakov composed one on the same subject, he retained affection for this little-known work. Judging by the beautiful Melodrama of Act II, its neglect is unjustified.
Eight years before that, as a 25-year-old student at the St Petersburg Conservatory he composed a String Quartet in B flat. If, as some authorities believe, it had four movements, only one has survived. Such is the inner power of the music that it takes on a more expressive hue when performed by a full string orchestra as on this recording.
Towards the end of 1884, the Moscow Society of Artists wished to honour veteran actor Ivan Samarin’s 50-year artistic career, and Tchaikovsky enthusiastically contributed a musical entr’acte. Tchaikovsky’s publisher Jurgenson persuaded the composer the music was worthy of publication, under the title Elegy, as Samarin died the year after the celebrations.
When Tchaikovsky suddenly died near the end of 1893, the slow movement of his Third String Quartet was arranged for string orchestra by Glazunov for performance at his funeral service. Glazunov’s subtle and sympathetic arrangement of this fine music for full string orchestra honours his friend, the great composer, in truly noble fashion.
The centerpiece of this Tchaikovsky program is the famous Serenade for Strings Op.48. It was composed in September and October 1880, freely and without commission, a response – so Tchaikovsky wrote to his patron, Nadezdha von Meck – to feeling ‘somewhat restless and unwell.’ He said that the Serenade arose from an innate impulse ‘having the freedom to think’, as he wrote, and to his publisher Jurgenson: ‘I love this Serenade terribly..’ The premiere was given at a surprise concert for Tchaikovsky at the end of 1880 at the Moscow Conservatoire – the orchestra made up of students and professionals – and was first heard publicly the following year, since when it has become arguably the most popular of all works for string orchestra. Especially the Waltz gained “Music for the Millions” fame.
The other works on this disc present some rarities: the Melodrama Snow Maiden Op.12, the String Quartet Op posth. in B-flat minor arranged by Nikolai Brucher, Elegy to the Memory of J. Samarin, and the String Quartet Op.30 - III. Andante Funebre e Doloroso, arranged by Alexander Glazunov.
The Baltic Chamber Orchestra is made up of soloists of the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra and was formed by the conductor Emmanuel Leducq-Barôme and the violinist Lev Klychkov early in the year 2000. The steady rise to prominence of the conductor Emmanuel Leducq-Barôme has shown the qualities of this exceptionally-gifted musician, who was admitted, at the age of 21, into the class of conductor Mariss Jansons at the St Petersburg Conservatory. Emmanuel concluded his studies there under the legendary pedagogue Ilya Musin. Their Richard Strauss CD received a Gramophone Editor’s Choice: "Rarely have I been as moved by Strauss's 'Study for 23 solo strings' ... as I was when listening to this richly-textured recording by the Baltic Chamber Orchestra. Although the chosen tempos are comparatively broad, Emmanuel Leducq-Barôme keeps you on edge of your seat, principally by achieving maximum tension at the crest of each phrase”.
Recorded June 2019 in St Petersburg, Russia.
World-premiere recordings of the Glazunov and Brucher string quartet arrangements. Booklet in English contains liner notes by English critic and broadcaster Robert Matthew-Walker, along with biographies of the musicians.