WORKS: Variations on a Rococo Theme; Souvenir de Florence; Andante cantabile; Lensky’s aria from Eugene Onegin; Nocturne, Op. 19/4
PERFORMER: Mischa Maisky (cello); Orpheus CO
CATALOGUE NO: 453 460-2
Would that we all could resist the temptations of tacky street vendors and bring back a souvenir from Florence as brilliant as Tchaikovsky’s sextet, whose fuller-bodied orchestral version appears on two of these discs. The Virtuosi di Kuhmo take nearly two minutes longer in a particularly elegiac account of the Adagio; otherwise there is little to differentiate between two very fine performances. So if you’re looking for a choice, it will be determined by the accompanying pieces on each disc.
The Kuhmo band has opted for relatively obscure Janácek: the evocative Suite for string orchestra is beautifully performed, but by its nature lacks the emotional depth of the Tchaikovsky. For the conductorless Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, the Souvenir comes after a medley of Tchaikovsky pieces designed to show off the considerable charms of the cellist Mischa Maisky. He has a delicate, slightly nervous style that gives the Rococo Variations (in Fitzhagen’s conventional arrangement) an idiosyncratic, conversational quality, but as with many conversations the quirkiness becomes a little irritating if heard for a second time.
The serenades by Tchaikovsky and Volkmann on the Dresden Staatskapelle’s disc were recorded in 1962, but any signs of old age are well masked by the luxurious resonance of the Lukaskirche. The Volkmann is charming, particularly the storytelling cadences of the opening Allegro, but the Tchaikovsky, for all its richness of texture, does not have the detailed articulation and esprit that we now expect from much smaller ensembles. Christopher Lambton