Arensky chamber works played by Spectrum Concerts Berlin

'The Quartet's rich resonance recalls that of a Russian Orthodox choir'

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COMPOSERS: Anton Arensky
LABELS: Naxos
ALBUM TITLE: Anton Arensky Chamber Music
WORKS: Piano Quintet in D; String Quartet No. 2; Piano Trio No. 1
CATALOGUE NO: Naxos 8.573317

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For those who wish Borodin had written more music like his string quartets, these three works by Arensky, a pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov’s, offer similarly expressive harmonies and beguiling melodies. String Quartet No. 2, written in Tchaikovsky’s memory – its central movement a masterful set of variations on that composer’s Crown of Roses – is scored for two cellos rather than the usual two violins. The Quartet’s rich resonance recalls that of a Russian Orthodox choir: indeed, its finale quotes the Orthodox Requiem Mass. I was also struck at the work’s opening by the viol-like sound conjured by the Spectrum Concerts Berlin players, enhancing Arensky’s already inventive scoring in which the first cello at that point is the highest sounding instrument.

The Piano Quintet receives at least as good a performance, capturing its slow movement’s soulful quality and the scherzo’s carefree playfulness. Arensky himself then lets the whole thing down, after three thoroughly engaging movements, with a perfunctory finale.

Piano Trio No. 1, the best known of these works, is given a pleasant performance. However, pianist Eldar Nebolsin – scintillating in the Quintet – sounds a touch pedestrian here after so many great alternative performances of this work, missing something of the ethereal yet poignant quality of the Elegia theme. Another niggle is the miscued start of track 7 for the Quartet’s finale, which starts with the previous movement’s final variation and coda; fortunately no actual music is lost.

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Daniel Jaffé