Serenade for Strings; Souvenir de Florence; Andante Cantabile; Before sleep (arr. Azkoul)
United Strings of Europe/Julian Azkoul
BIS BIS-2569 (CD/SACD) 77:50 mins
So many inspired melodies, ravishingly harmonised, on a single disc, and it’s not even a ‘Tchaikovsky’s Greatest Hits’ compilation. Julian Azkoul, violinist mastermind of United Strings of Europe, has sensibly placed his full-string arrangement of the Andante Cantabile from the First String Quartet between two rip-roaring movements, the Finale of the Serenade for Strings, also folk-song based, and the opening sally of Souvenir de Florence.
Paradoxically, Souvenir de Florence can sound more dashing in its original string sextet version – the performance on YouTube led by Janine Jansen is one of my favourite chamber-music performances ever – but solo strings do grace the second, more lyrical theme. The ghost-murmurs in the middle of the slow movement – straight out of the world of the near-contemporary opera The Queen of Spades – perhaps make more of an impact with multiple susurrations. As for the Serenade, it depends on whether you want a lush string section of a symphony orchestra or the nimbler, slimline group here (four first violins, three seconds and violas, two cellos, one double bass). The inwardness of the ‘Elegie’ and the marvellous crescendos from pp to ff are superbly done, making up for the last degree of character lacking in the ‘Valse’ (maybe that takes a great conductor, like Paavo Berglund, whose version with the Stockholm Chamber Orchestra was my Building a Library choice many years back on Radio 3).
Azkoul’s penchant for rare transcriptions of choral pieces is nicely represented in the encore, a student setting originally of Nikolay Agaryov’s ‘At Bedtime’. Excellent sound, and good annotation by Azkoul.