TISCHENKO: Violin Concerto No. 2 (Violin Symphony). Organ Inventions, Op. 27. Yuefu, Three Choirs A Cappella on Chinese Folk Texts# / *Sergey Stadler, vln; Nina Oksentyan, org; Leningrad Chamber #Choir & *Philharmonic Orch; *Vasily Sinaysky, Valentin Nesterov, cond / Northern Flowers NF/PMA 99146
Northern Flowers is a small Russian label with limited distribution. In all my years as a reviewer, I’ve only ever run across one other release, a recital by the obscure pianist Vladimir Nielsen (Northern Flowers 9982); I was fortunate indeed to receive a physical copy of this one, since the label never seems to make their products available digitally for critics.
The observant reader will notice that the orchestra and chorus bear the name “Leningrad” rather than “St. Petersburg,” which is what Leningrad was before, and after, the Soviet Union. That is because these recordings were made in the 1980s before the complete fall and collapse of the Communist government. But Tischenko was a quirky and interesting composer, and the Violin Concerto No. 2 (subtitled Violin Symphony) is typical of his work. He was primarily tonal but with the music sort of edging its way outside the home tonality here and there, one might describe it as “Shostakovich lite.” And it is both well-crafted and effective music, with real development and a touch of Stravinsky here and there. The opening movement, though titled “Allegro moderato,” is more of a somewhat quick Adagio than a true Allegro, the music riding over a repeated rhythmic pattern and building slowly but surely in intensity from quietude to a rousing forte just before the mid-point of the movement. The violin solo rather ruminates; it does not dominate the proceedings, but rather fills in certain thematic material as does the viola in Berlioz’ Harold en Italie. The orchestration is also rather sparse, allowing Tischenko to create a sort of mosaic pattern of sounds in the manner of Britten. And the music is playful-sounding, something quite rare for a Russian composer from any era.
The second, third and fourth movements, which are linked, begin with a rapidly paced but strangely halting violin solo which races up and down the fingerboard; there are brief comments from a grumbling bassoon, a flute (or piccolo) and then oboe, the latter becoming quite testy and challenging the solo violin, before other instruments of the orchestra fall into place and we get a rather jolly-sounding syncopated dance rhythm. Then it’s the orchestra’s turn to argue among themselves, working out their gripe just in time for the violin to re-enter. It’s a simply wonderful piece, much easier to just listen to and enjoy than to describe in words. There are even a few moments, here and there, that put me in mind of George Antheil’s Ballet Mécanique. By the third movement, this syncopated rhythm has become something of an obsession for Tischenko, dominating the development so much that it practically becomes a “theme” in itself. The final “Andante,” though also emphasizing a strong rhythm, lets go of the syncopation to become somewhat majestic, even a bit melancholy, in mood. The upper strings eventually create a continually swirling series of figures which plays against the stately and gradually louder canon figures in the brass and winds. To my mind, this is a real masterpiece despite the fact that there are only a few moments that put a real demand on the soloist’s technique.
The Organ Inventions are also interesting, quirky music, the first being a bit reminiscent of Marius Constant’s Twilight Zone theme. But all three are interesting.
The album ends with three Chinese folk songs sung by a creamy-sounding Russian chorus without orchestra. These are somewhat more conventional pieces, very tonal and almost sounding like religious music, though it does show another side of Tischenko’s art.
Throughout much of its existence, the Soviet Union produced recordings of substandard sound quality in virtually every era from the 1920s through the 1970s, but the 1987 recording of this Violin Concerto and the 1981 recording of the Organ Inventions are in wonderful and quite modern digital sound. A very interesting disc, particularly recommended for the Violin Concerto (Symphony).
—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley
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