Tchaikovsky; Bartók/Tchaikovsky; Shostakovich

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky; Bartók; Shostakovich


 Tchaikovsky: Serenade for Strings
 Bartók: Divertimento
 LSO String Ensemble/Roman Simovic
 LSO LS0 0752 (hybrid CD/SACD)   55:50 mins

  Tchaikovsky: Serenade for Strings
  Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 2 (arr. Morton)
  Scottish Ensemble/Jonathan Morton
  Linn CKD 472 (hybrid CD/SACD)   65 mins

Though the LSO String Ensemble plays two works that their respective composers claimed were on the ‘lighter’ side of their creative spectrum, neither are in any way ‘lightweight’. This is strikingly demonstrated by leader-director Roman Simovic, who in the Tchaikovsky Serenade encourages a soaring cantabile reminiscent of Herbert von Karajan’s early 1980s take with the Berlin Phil, but without the German’s sheer heft. Even the rhythmically propulsive Cossack-dance finale retains its expressive quality, with seductively cushioned staccatos well-captured by recording team James Mallinson and Jonathan Stokes. If the Tchaikovsky occasionally lacks a sense of earthy, visceral excitement, the bracing folk-music rhythms of Bartók’s Divertimento respond particularly well to Simovic’s affectionate approach. Where others tend to emphasise its often violent textural and dynamic contrasts, Simovic focuses on its lyricism, culminating in a joyous finale.

With the Scottish Ensemble, Jonathan Morton keeps the Tchaikovsky rhythmically lithe and buoyant at generally more flowing tempos, emphasising the composer’s neo-classical sensibility in emulation of his beloved Mozart. The feather-light waltz dances exuberantly, free of balletic thrust, and after a deft, fine-textured account of the ‘Elegia’ slow movement, the finale is given an effervescent send-off. From the other side of the musical universe comes Shostakovich’s Second Quartet in Morton’s expert arrangement. The work’s generic titles are borrowed mostly from outside the quartet’s natural domain, including an overture, a recitativo and a sinister waltz the polar opposite of Tchaikovsky’s. Expertly played, immaculately paced and skilfully shaped, all I missed here was a sense of implied threat, of dark shadows falling occasionally across the music’s troubled surfaces.


Julian Haylock