Tchaikovsky: Rococo Variations (CD review)

Also, Rococo Variations; Nocturne; Andante Cantabile; Romances. Alexander Kniazev, cello; Constantine Orbelian, Moscow Chamber Orchestra. Warner Classics 2564 62061-2.

Aside from the fact that this is a fairly somber affair, something that comes with the territory when you're listening to cello music, the performances and sound are almost letter perfect.

Russian cellist Alexander Kniazev plays Tchaikovsky's justly celebrated Rococo Variations with passion and intensity, just as he instills a decidedly romantic pathos into the other Tchaikovsky pieces: the Nocturne in D minor, the Andante cantable in d major, and ten of the songs, called Romances, arranged for cello and orchestra by Evgeni Stetsuk.

The cello is, as they say, made for lost love, and in all of these works Kniazev conveys a mournful melancholy. A little of it goes a long way, to be sure, but in small doses it is quite enchanting, and we get interpretations for the Romantic in all of us.

The recording itself works well for the intimacy of the music, and it opens up a good deal of inner detail that any more-distant miking might have obscured. (It also opens up the cellist's occasional groans and wheezes, but that's another story.) The Moscow Chamber Orchestra sounds reasonably clear, with decent width, depth, and bloom. It's a pleasant-sounding recording.

If I have any negative criticism at all, it's about Warner's packaging. The back cover of the jewel box lists the disc's contents but not in sequence. Which means if you want to play anything in particular on the disc and want to know the track numbers, you have to go into the booklet to find it. And I do mean "into" the booklet, because Warners do not list the disc contents sequentially on the back of the insert, either, only inside. Then there's the cover photo of Mr. Kniazev, dressed entirely in black, hair askew, stubble on face, sprawled on a black leather chair next to his instrument, and scowling. I suppose the disc's art director intended Kniazev's expression to mirror the mood of the music, but he doesn't appear so much melancholy or unhappy as he does angry. I may be one of the few people in the world who enjoys looking at a cover picture while listening to the music, so give me a pastoral painting any day.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

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.

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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.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa