Tchaikovsky: Souvenir de Florence; Serenade for Strings

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky
LABELS: Black Box
WORKS: Souvenir de Florence; Serenade for Strings
PERFORMER: Irish CO/Fionnuala Hunt
CATALOGUE NO: iClassics BBM 3004
Has anyone thought of performing Tchaikovsky’s Serenade as a string quintet? That, after all, was how it began, if only in the composer’s imagination, and it’s a worthwhile thought now that the market is flooded with chamber-orchestra versions of the sextet Souvenir de Florence – not the best-contrasted companion piece to the Serenade. This latest contender, like the Bavarian version reviewed by Michael Jameson in the July issue, uses chamber forces as opposed to the orchestral string sections we’re more used to – and which Tchaikovsky intended – in the Serenade. The gains are subtle intimacy in the waltz and elegy, and greater suppleness in the outer movements; though there are other moments when the sheen of Muti’s Philadelphians or Karajan’s Berliners gives a more aristocratic impression – and limited cellos fail to put sensuous flesh on the finale’s lyrical countermelody.

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The big tunes of the Souvenir, on the other hand, do work well – though here the paradox remains that solo strings have more of an impact. Best are the nimble dances of the oddly Sibelian third movement. There can be no doubt of director Fionnuala Hunt’s musical shaping, though, and on its own terms – setting aside my own preference for a big-band Serenade – this is the best of its kind. The presentation, however, manages an amazing number of mistakes in its slenderness. To the silly note’s assertion that Tchaikovsky married ‘the infamous Antonio Milyukova’, one imagines the composer’s shade smiling and murmuring ‘if only’. David Nice