for the magazine "International Record Review"
(www.recordreview.co.uk) about CDA67413 (Hyperion Records)
Boris Tchaikovsky (1925-96) was a composition pupil of Shebalin, Miaskovsky and Shostakovich (in 1946-48). His Sinfonietta for string orchestra was written in 1953. It's s an undemanding, bracing piece which makes a good opening to this useful anthology, played and conducted with plenty of vigour by the Moscow-based Musica Viva Chamber Orchestra under Alexander Rudin.
Tchaikovsky's Chamber Symphony of 1967 is a tougher work, both more rugged and more subtle. Written for Rudolf Barshai and the Moscow Chamber Orchestra, itıs an impressively austere work, making use of a harpsichord in an intelligently modern way. Boris Tchaikovsky's music owes something to his greatest teacher, Shostakovich, but there are also hints of overseas influences like Britten, and even a suggestion at times of Copland, though that is presumably coincidental, since it is unlikely that Tchaikovsky knew any of the American composer's work.
The Six Etudes for strings and organ is a curious piece, dating from 1976. The organ part consists mostly of bald sustained chords, around which the strings weave textures that are scarcely any more decorative. In the fourth study, the organ injects a little rhythmic impetus to a movement that seems determined not to get off the ground: the momentum never quite gets going. The longest of the studies, the fifth, returns to the idea of sustained chords animated by simple ostinatos, over which a melody emerges. The harmonic radiance of this movement is very attractive, though David Fanning's helpful notes suggest that this sweetness, which I perceive as just that, is intended to be ironic. The finale is a curious affair, with far busier figuration in places than has been heard before, though a lot of it is based on tonic triads.
The final piece on this well-filled disc is The Bells, a Prelude for small orchestra and bells. It was orchestrated by Pyotr Klimov after Tchaikovsky's death and it makes a touching, bittersweet close to an intriguing exploration of this composer's output for chamber orchestra. While there have been recordings of Boris Tchaikovsky's music in circulation for a long time, many are very hard to find, so this disc accessible in every sense of the word is a useful addition to the discography of music written during the Soviet era.
The sound is clean and bright. Worth exploring if this kind of repertoire appeals.