Strauss, Tchaikovsky: Metamorphosen

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COMPOSERS: Strauss,Tchaikovsky
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Metamorphosen
PERFORMER: Norwegian CO/Iona Brown
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9708
Strong programming results from the inverse proportions of darkness and light in both these chamber-friendly works (Souvenir de Florence is properly a string sextet, while recent interest has centred round a septet version of Metamorphosen). It’s hardly surprising that the Scandinavian players should highlight the Sibelian, En Sagaish earthiness in the third movement of Tchaikovsky’s far from Italianate serenade – actually based on a Russian folksong – and their fine-tuned precision deals nimbly with both the ghostly, Queen of Spades-like interruption of the composer’s otherwise disappointing Adagio cantabile and the cheerful counterpoint of the finale.

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In Metamorphosen, the relatively vibrato-free leanness of the sound makes for a helpfully sober, withdrawn start; the more personal note of the first violinist’s delayed entry has a special impact here.

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When inspiration needs to take wing, however, the colour of the ensemble stays obstinately grey, with only the occasional hint of silver. You get to hear more than the usual amount of inner detail as Strauss muses on happier times past, but it’s certainly at the expense of rapturous forward movement, and the bittersweet lyrical theme at the heart of Tchaikovsky’s first movement sounds too thin for the necessary heartsurge. Oddly enough, the solo strings of the Arensky Ensemble make that sound fuller and lovelier; though it’s not strictly comparable, this is the sound that Tchaikovsky originally intended. As for Metamorphosen, Brown and company are hard pushed to march the gleaming strengths of Karajan’s Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics, though they do have a valid case to make for a more private kind of grieving. David Nice