Tchaikovsky: Andersen Fairy Tales (CD review)

Also, Four Preludes, The Swineherd, and Galoshes of Fortune. Kirill Ershov, Musica Viva Chamber Orchestra. Naxos 8.572400.

No, not that Tchaikovsky. This is Moscow-born composer Boris Tchaikovsky (1925-1996), no direct relation to his more-famous namesake. Boris Tchaikovsky came to prominence in the 1950's, just after the death of Stalin but still under the rigid constraints of Communist musical censorship. This album of some of the composer's lighter music shows us his most charming qualities.

When I say "lighter" music I do not mean that to imply any disparagement. Tchaikovsky never intended for the music represented here to be entirely weighty or profound, just simple, straightforward, engaging, and relaxing. It succeeds admirably in these regards.

The program begins with the most substantial of the music, his Four Preludes for Chamber Orchestra (1984). The Preludes began life in 1965 as vocal settings for texts by the Nobel Prize-winning poet Joseph Brodsky, whom the U.S.S.R. eventually expelled in 1972. As a result of the government's condemnation of Brodsky, the songs never saw the light of day, the Soviet government banning them before anyone could perform them. So Tchaikovsky took an alternative approach; he scored them for chamber orchestra alone, taking pride in not changing a single note. They are fine examples of modern tone painting.

The other items on the program are three suites of fairy-tale music Tchaikovsky wrote for radio shows in the 1950's. Both the composer and the world regrettably forgot them, and it was only through the efforts of the Boris Tchaikovsky Society that they were recovered in 2003, after the composer's death. They are receiving their world-première recordings on this disc, so it's beneficial that we find them so well performed and well recorded.

The Swineherd (1954), Andersen Fairy Tales (1955-56), and Galoshes of Fortune (1958) are collections of brief tone poems every bit as descriptive as their names suggest. They are sweet, clever, delightful, lyrical, sparkling, delicate, comical, fanciful, and familiar. They remind one of Prokofiev's music for Peter and the Wolf or the music accompanying Disney's old Silly Symphonies cartoons, with a little Offenbach thrown in for spice.

I have never heard much of Boris Tchaikovsky's music before (although this is the fourth Naxos recording of his work), and I've heard none of the pieces on this disc, so I have nothing with which to compare them. However, I certainly have no objection to the way conductor Kirill Ershov and Moscow's Musica Viva Chamber Orchestra play them. They exhibit an abundance of vigor, enthusiasm, and obvious affection for the tunes, and they aren't afraid to play them as serious music, never condescendingly.

If there is a snag to any part of the program, it's that each piece of music is quite short, the suites segmented with four or nine or fourteen movements each and nothing lasting more than a few minutes, often less. As soon as something begins, it ends. Alas, that is the nature of stage, film, and radio work, I suppose.

No snags with the Naxos sonics, though, unless you don't care for recordings miked close up. The Musica Viva Chamber Orchestra are a very small ensemble, the accompanying booklet noting about a dozen players, so their sound would be quite transparent in any case. Nevertheless, recorded fairly close up, the result provides some pinpoint accuracy. This is decidedly not a concert-hall performance but a superclean studio production. You get front-row seats to the proceedings, with plenty of dynamic impact and a wide frequency range. In particular, the disc's extreme clarity makes for an impressive reproduction of percussives. In sum, we get entertaining music and entertaining sound. Nice package.


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me--point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, as of right now it comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio High Current preamplifier, AVA FET Valve 550hc or Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa