Friday, July 6, 2012

Preview: A quick musical peek at the place in Italy that really captured Tchaikovsky's heart

Florence: Il Duomo. We hear, in orchestral guise, the end of the second movement, Adagio cantabile e con moto, of the Tchaikovsky string sextet Souvenir de Florence ("Memory of Florence"). We're going to hear the complete performance of this movement in the click-through.

by Ken

In last Friday's preview we kicked off this composers' celebration of Italy with Tchaikovsky's Capriccio italien, a souvenir of the composer's happy visit to Rome. But the city that really captured his heart was Florence, which inspired one of his chamber masterpieces, the string sextet Souvenir de Florence (Memory of Florence). (For the record, the main work we heard in Sunday's post, "Young Felix Mendelssohn traveled to Italy, and when he returned home . . . ," was Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony.)

Tchaikovsky stressed that he was composing six solo parts that would combine in a unique way. Which hasn't stopped orchestras from beefing the sextet up to chamber-orchestra proportions. And I thought we would start tonight by listening to the glorious slow movement both in its composed form and then in orchestral guise. The orchestral version may not have been what the composer had in mind, but once you hear it, I think you'll understand why orchestras like to claim it as their own.

And here's the Duomo in daylight.


As I said, were going to hear it first as it was composed, for string sextet, played by the Borodin Quartet in its glory years, with a pair of pretty high-class colleagues. (The "extra" violist and cellist were aptly billed in the original Melodiya-Angel LP release as "special guest artists.") As you listen, bear in mind that the composer thought of this as an ensemble of six solo instruments. After the beautiful fading-away chordal introduction, the first voice we hear sounding the haunting principal theme -- over his colleagues' pizzicato -- is the Borodin's founding first violinist, Rostislav Dubinsky, followed then by the first cellist, which I assume is the Borodin's longtime cellist Valentin Berlinsky.

Afterward, we hear the movement in string-orchestra form as conducted by Sunday Classics' Mr. Dependable, David Zinman.

TCHAIKOVSKY: Souvenir de Florence (Sextet for Strings in D minor), Op. 70:
ii. Adagio cantabile e con moto

Borodin Quartet (Rostislav Dubinsky and Yaroslav Alexandrov, violins; Dmitri Shebalin, viola; Valentin Berlinsky, cello); Genrikh Talalyan, viola; Mstislav Rostropovich, cello. Melodiya/Angel, recorded 1964

Netherlands Chamber Orchestra, David Zinman, cond. Philips, recorded c1976


We'll be taking in -- what else -- the whole of Tchaikovsky's Souvenir de Florence.

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