Shchedrin – Concertos for Orchestra Nos. 4 & 5

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COMPOSERS: Shchedrin
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Concertos for Orchestra: No. 4 (Khorovody); No. 5 (Four Russian Songs); Crystal Gusli
PERFORMER: Bournemouth SO/Kirill Karabits
CATALOGUE NO: 8.572405

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What to make of Rodion Shchedrin’s later scores? Well, he likes themes and melodies, yet his own aren’t terribly interesting; he cares for varied orchestral colour, but a slow-moving kaleidoscope is no substitute for a sustained argument which actually goes places.

These were my disappointed impressions as I waded through the Fourth and Fifth Concertos for Orchestra, a far cry from the Naughty Limericks of No. 1 back in 1963. Were Shchedrin’s Japanese commissioners paying him by the minute for the stretched-out round dances of the Fourth?

It starts strikingly with an alto recorder evoking shepherds’ calls in a landscape of howling flutes (more distant wolves, surely, than the wind through the grass). But the idea gets stuck. Similarly the skirling strings around a wilder ritual are striking, but over-extended. 

The ‘Russian songs’ surveyed by the troika ride of the Fifth Concerto start well but become mired in an undistinguished number for strings. Both pieces would surely work better as ten-minute overtures, while the Crystal Gusli, evoking the much-loved Russian psaltery, is all ethereal atmospherics, as its dedication to Takemitsu suggests: interesting but ephemeral.

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Bournemouth’s promising principal conductor Kirill Karabits, though well served by both his orchestra and the Naxos production team, needs more substantial material to make his mark; and this bodes ill for Gergiev’s spotlight on Shchedrin in the LSO’s 2010-11 season. David Nice