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Russian romanticism

The Best of Tchaikovsky

Rs 80

This is an interesting melange of the Russian composer's acclaimed works, mostly performed by east European orchestras like the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra and the Czech-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra.

Tchaikovsky is synonymous with Russian classical music perhaps because of the sheer number of his pieces which have become household names today. Ask any quiz-savvy school kid in the neighbourhood --- he'll know who wrote The Swan Lake or he may do even better - hum the theme of Sleeping Beauty!

Side A opens with the second movement of Serenade for Strings in C Major. The violins and cellos weave lilting melodies on the waltz, often considered Tchaikovsky's favourite form. The extract from Piano Concerto No 1 in B flat minor is fairly elaborate. A delight for the piano lover who appreciates arpeggios.

No discussion on Tchaikovsky can be complete without a reference to the Swan Lake theme, which many consider the best ever music written for ballet. This is one of his earlier masterpieces --- full of empathy and romanticism, exemplified by the recurring melody on the oboe.

The 1812 Festival Overture has a historical significance. Conceived on Napolean's retreat in 1812 and written for the Russian Art and Industrial Exhibition (1880), it begins cautiously with strings and builds up to a grandiose climax with embedded riffs of La Marseillaise. Like a narration, it paints various soundscapes -- the approaching army, the raging war and the retreat. In fact, Tchaikovsky even wanted this piece to be performed outdoors to convey the mood better (with the loud tremors of the bell and cymbals).

Sleeping Beauty, another all-time favourite, weaves a theatrical air in the form of a waltz with the strings in the lead, followed by occasional bells and woodwind sections. Symphonie Pathetique (No.6 in B Minor), considered a magnum opus by the composer himself, sounds almost like a light yet powerful march with lots of emphasis on the bass and string sections. Set in allegro molto vivace, this is basically its third movement.

A note for the academically-inclined listener. The composer breaks the structure of the traditional symphony here by not providing any slow movement or a convincing final movement. Instead he has a Russian dance in 5/4 as his second movement and a quiet (andante) recurring melody in his fourth. Nine days after the first ever performance of this composition the composer died of cholera.

The extract from the Nutcracker is a short and light Russian dance with deft use of the tambourine and a quick repetitive melody line. It's the maestro at his ethnic best. The extract from Symphony No 5 in E Minor is a fairly slow movement -- emotional and even depressing. The melody is essentially driven by the string section with occasional bursts of brass and timpani.

This is a useful collection, but I feel the inclusion of a section from the ballet Romeo and Juliet would have helped the listener get a more complete feel of the kind of music Tchaikovsky stood for.

The number of the movement, if mentioned, can whet the appetite of the listener for the entire opus. I also didn't quite get the aesthetics or the logic of the sequence: it is based neither on chronology nor category.

Yet the tape is definitely worth your while. And your money, too.

Arnab B Chowdhury

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