, May 2010
In 1965 Boris Tchaikovsky composed a short song-cycle on poems by Josef Brodsky. It was not premiered at that time because Brodsky was then persona non grata for the regime although the poems chosen by the composer had no real polemic content. Incidentally, Four Poems by Josef Brodsky has now been recorded and is available on Toccata Classics TOCC 0046 - reviewed here some time ago. Some time later, however, Tchaikovsky reworked the piece for chamber orchestra under its new title Four Preludes for Chamber Orchestra. The most remarkable thing concerning the orchestral version is the way the composer succeeded in keeping everything of the original with not one aspect of the essence of the original score altered in the setting for chamber orchestra. Four Preludes also amply demonstrates Tchaikovsky’s masterly skill as orchestrator.
As with many other Soviet composers of his generation Tchaikovsky had to find ways of making a living out of his trade and did so by writing many scores for films (some of them have been recorded since), for stage plays and for radio plays. Thus, between 1954 and 1958 he composed several scores as incidental music for radio plays based on stories by Andersen. The manuscripts lay hidden until 2003 when they were recovered by the Boris Tchaikovsky Society. Composer Petr Klimov – a former student of Tchaikovsky – and conductor Kirill Ershov compiled three suites from the music. Two of them - The Swineherd and The Galoshes of Fortune - contain almost the entire scores written for these productions whereas Andersen Fairy Tales compiles excerpts from the scores for The Brave Tin Soldier, The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Snail and the Rose-Tree and The Darning Needle. I must straightaway avow that this information is drawn from the detailed insert notes by Louis Blois.
These suites mostly comprise short movements aimed at illustrating particular events and characters from the different tales. It would be idle on my part to go into many details about each of them. However, it must be said that Tchaikovsky remained his own self when writing for young audiences and – following the example of older composers such as Prokofiev and his Peter and the Wolf – he never wrote down to them. His music is full of allusions to or near-quotes from well known works. One sometimes thinks of Tchaikovky, the composer of The Nutcracker, and of some late-19th century French ballet composers. There are also some allusions to Shostakovich’s music; the Revellers’ Song [track 29] for men’s choir and instruments clearly brings Tchaikovsky’s teacher to mind. More generally the music is simple but by no means simplistic, full of mild irony and a gentle humour that makes these lighter works both attractive and endearing.
The Four Preludes is a much more serious work than the Andersen suites, but the latter nevertheless show that Tchaikovsky was a highly professional musician whose music is likely to appeal to young audiences and “grey beards” as well. The Andersen suites also demonstrate that Tchaikovsky was a versatile musician at ease when dealing with fairy tales as well as with more serious issues.
This is an enormously enjoyable release and a worthwhile addition to Tchaikovsky’s ever-growing discography. There is not much else to do but just sit down, listen and enjoy.