Concertos for Orchestra Nos. 4
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The distinguished Russian composer, pianist and teacher Rodion Shchedrin writes: "I spent my childhood in the small Russian town of Aleksin, situated on the river Oka, 300 kilometres south of Moscow. My grandfather was an Orthodox priest there. When I
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Concerto 4 is first on the program, and it is by far the most compelling and easily accessible score. The sub-title means "Round Dances" or "Roundelays", and the spirit and vitality of Russian folk dancing is never far beneath the surface. Despite the nationalist inspiration of the music, the themes are all Shchedrin's--"my own innocent vision", as he comments in the booklet. The work is cast in a single movement of nearly a half hour in length, but it is divided into three distinct dances followed by a coda that recalls the score's ethereal opening passage.
Shchedrin has always been a master of orchestral color, even as early as his First Piano Concerto, written while he was still a conservatory student. Then, as now, he was deeply influenced by the greatest of his predecessors: Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Khachaturian. That influence is still obvious in this delightful Concerto. For example, the passage for two flutes at the beginning of the second dance recalls the 11th Symphony of Shostakovich, while the blazing climax at the end of the third seems to be a direct descendent of Prokofiev's Scythian Suite.
That said, there's plenty of originality and creativity on display here. The opening is a masterstroke: a haunting, melismatic solo by an alto recorder accompanied by two flutes imitating the sound of the rushing wind. Shchedrin also makes creative use of the harpsichord and an enormous battery of percussion instruments. Anyone who has heard Shchedrin's Carmen Ballet is aware that this composer knows his way around the orchestra's percussion section. Also given his experience with ballet, Shchedrin has become a superb dramatist, and that skill is also evident here. The result is attractive, exciting, and often ethereally beautiful--well deserving of a place in the modern orchestral repertory.
Concerto 5 is shorter, darker, and less immediately appealing. Perhaps the subtitle ("Four Russian Songs") is part of the problem. If you're expecting a light-hearted romp in the style of Anatol Liadov's Eight Russian Folksongs, you'll be sadly disappointed. Shchedrin's songs are for the most part dark and brooding. Moreover, the orchestral colors have been muted and the dynamics are mostly subdued, which makes the rare fortissimo outbursts even more surprising. Although there are four songs, the work is clearly divided into six sections, each easy to distinguish thanks to Andrew Burn's helpful booklet essay.
Crystal Psaltery is the shortest and most recent work on the program. It's a study in sonority inspired by and written for Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu. According to Shchedrin, "There are echoes of (Takemitsu's) `watercolor' compositional aesthetics to be heard here." It's a haunting nine minute score that soon has the listener feeling suspended in time.
The playing of the Bournemouth Symphony is exemplary--as is the clarity and richness of the recorded sound. Young maestro Karabits is an alert, sensitive leader with an excellent sense of drama. Let's hope Naxos brings us more of his art in the future. We urgently need his recordings of the other Shchedrin Concertos for Orchestra, not to mention the composer's fascinating Piano Concertos.
Urgently recommended to anyone with an interest in 20th century Russian orchestral music.
Concerto Orchestra No. 5, also premiered in 1989 and again set in a single movement, is a bit shorter than No. 4 at a little over twenty minutes and scored for a slightly smaller ensemble. This time Shchedrin uses a well-known Russian folk tune in the work, but the mood remains the same as the composer takes us on a musical journey via horse and carriage through various landscapes. Shchedrin says these treks are nostalgic childhood memories of his. Fair enough. It's all enjoyable stuff if somewhat light and not a little wistful in its sonorities.
John J. Puccio
This is some of the most original classical music I've ever heard. And that's coming from someone who's heard thousands of classical music CDs (thanks to all the libraries in my city *and* Amazon of course).
I personally don't like to spend my time reading L O N G reviews on Amazon, so I'll keep this short. You will not hear better orchestral writing than on these three brilliant compositions. Highly intelligent, lyrically imaginative, crystalline-like transparency in the beautiful sonorities, and world-class playing by this U.K. orchestra. With demonstration-like sonics, and at a budget price, this is what you would call a 'no-brainer'! You will NOT be disappointed. Shchedrin is Russia's greatest living composer and this disk is instant proof of that debatable claim.
I hope this helps with only that one-star review to go on. (And a note to Mr. Meagher - do yourself and everyone else a favor - DELETE your review. How embarrassing.)
The Bournemouth Symphony is top shelf in this recording and they make the most of the music. Kirill Karabits is an up and coming conductor and does a fine job here.
I feel two faced here. I want to say that this is three star music played by five star players. Or that it is five star music for those interested in New Age music.
So if you like Yanni or Andre Rieu then go for this CD for you background meditation to start your day.
If you like serious classical music of today my preferences are Jay Greenberg, Schnittke, or Weinberg.