Tchaikovsky/Arensky

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky/Arensky
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Souvenir de Florence; Quartet in A minor
PERFORMER: Raphael Ensemble
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 66648 DDD
The Raphael Ensemble’s string sextet configuration allows it to tackle some of the more unusual chamber groupings. Thus on this, their latest in a series of recordings for Hyperion, they couple Tchaikovsky’s sextet Souvenir de Florence with an ‘upside-down’ string quartet by Arensky, written for one violin, viola and two cellos.

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The players ably capture the varied moods of the Tchaikovsky, from its high-spirited first movement to its rather earnest finale. The playing is lithe without being over-refined – the recordings of both works have been edited together from live performances and studio sessions (all in the same venue) – and the occasional lapses in intonation are made up for by the vigour of the enterprise.

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Arensky’s quartet may well be more familiar than its apparent obscurity might suggest. It was written as a tribute to Tchaikovsky and its second movement is the set of variations on his Legend, best known in its orchestral guise. Similarly, the finale makes use of the Gloria melody used by Beethoven in his second Rasumovsky quartet and Mussorgsky in the Coronation Scene of Boris Godunov. The performance is again a fine one and both works are recorded sympathetically, with little if anything to distinguish between ‘live’ and ‘patched’ segments. Matthew Rye