WORKS: Serenade for Strings; Italian Serenade; Introduction and Allegro; Adagio
PERFORMER: Berlin PO/Semyon Bychkov
CATALOGUE NO: 434 108-2 DDD
The absurd notion that only English performers can do justice to English music has long been a discredited one, with a string of distinguished European and American artists giving us fine performances of Elgar’s music, in particular. However, I hate to have to admit that the muscular lyricism of the Introduction and Allegro seems to have eluded both Bychkov and the Berlin Philharmonic.
There’s too much playing ‘off the string’, and the big climaxes are under-powered. The version of Wolf’s enchanting Italian Serenade for string orchestra, on the other hand, seems heavy-handed compared with the elfin grace of the original string quartet. Tchaikovsky’s Serenade finds both conductor and orchestra on more familiar ground. I dare say the Waltz has sounded more charming in other performances, but the Elegy has just the right degree of quiet restraint.
After three such energetic masterpieces, I felt a bit short-changed by Barber’s languid Adagio for Strings (another arrangement from a string quartet original); it needs a greater sense of purpose if it is to hold its own in this sort of company. Philips’s choice of recording venue (the Jesus-Christus-Kirche in Berlin) provides an agreeably warm sound. Stephen Maddock