WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Variations on a Theme of Tchaikovsky; Cantata on the Tenth Anniversary of the Coronation; Fantasia on Themes by IT Ryabinin; Three Vocal Quartets
PERFORMER: Tatiana Sharova (soprano), Andrei Baturkin (baritone), Tatiana Polyanskaya (piano), Dmitri Miller (cello); Russian State Symphonic Cappella & SO/Valeri Polyansky
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10086
‘He will soon be forgotten’ was Rimsky-Korsakov’s uncharitable obituary for Anton Arensky, the pupil he outlived by two years. Not quite: Barbirolli’s personable recording of the charming Variations on a Theme of Tchaikovsky for strings has helped to keep Arensky’s modest flame burning. Up to now, though, only Svetlanov has adequately upheld the two symphonies on disc, and his recordings are currently unavailable. In Polyansky’s performance, the youthful First receives less help with the inner life of its modest melodies and folksong arrangements, more straightforward focus for its fast-moving succession of ideas (only the oriental theme of the slow movement remains stuck in a groove). Shorn of the once-ubiquitous echo effect dished out to Polyansky’s Moscow Conservatory recordings, Arensky’s likeable candour emerges with plenty of no-nonsense brio.
It’s easier to fault most of the other works as they appear on this well-presented CD: the brief cantata celebrating ten years of the reactionary Alexander III both for its pasty civic tone (unimaginatively quoting the famous ‘like to the sun’ folksong beloved of Beethoven and Mussorgsky) and for the flat, unenthusiastic contributions of the singers; the Fantasia for the pretentious Lisztian garb in which it dresses up the first of its traditional epic songs; the Tchaikovsky Variations for the messy delivery of the third variation (Polyansky and his strings do, however, strike the right intimate tone towards the end). The postlude, though, is magical: three choral settings of the gushing poet Afanasy Fet with only a poetic cello obbligato to keep them company. David Nice