Yuri Zhislin conducts Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings

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COMPOSERS: Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky
LABELS: Orchid Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Tchaikovsky
WORKS: Serenade for Strings; Souvenir de Florence
PERFORMER: Russian Virtuosi of Europe/Yuri Zhislin
CATALOGUE NO: Orchid Classics ORC 100052

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When I compared recordings of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings on BBC Radio 3’s CD Review some years back, the choice was between lush orchestral strings and chamber ensembles. The Russian Virtuosi of Europe’s dazzling debut disc offers the best of both worlds – airy nimbleness matched to a richness of sound which sometimes seems impossible from a group of 18 players. That’s partly due to the dynamic range and balance – never too close – achieved in All Saints East Finchley by producer John Fraser and engineer Philip Siney. Passion and precision are one. The apogee is the Serenade’s ‘Elegie’. Melodic lines are beautifully moulded, the return of the opening chords hushed, the climax gorgeous and the dying fall subtly atmospheric. The waltz lilts with delicate ritenutos, the finale bounces.

So does the opening movement of the Souvenir de Florence, arranged by director-violinist Yuri Zhislin from the string sextet of 1892. This is contrastingly stout and steaky (the finale’s second theme could be from Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro). Chords this time have little of the careful vibrato which kicked off the first work, and full-blooded tutti contrast with perfect songs taken as solos by Zhislin and his first cellist. The ricochets of the extraordinary third movement, surprisingly like Sibelius in Karelian folk mode, fizz with energy.

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David Nice