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Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, March 2008

You'll find the selections for string orchestra on this disc by five twentieth century composers from the Caucasian region of the old Soviet Union a delightful curiosity. From Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia this is some of the most exotically varied music to hit the silver disc in some time. Folk influences are rife, adding all the more color to the works presented here. (P080310)

The program begins with a symphony for string orchestra (1941) by Fikret Amirov (Azerbaijan, 1925-1991), who is best known for his arrangements of Azeri folk dances. It's in four movements and written in memory of an Azeri poet by the name of Nizami. The odd-numbered movements are soul-searching andantes, while the even-numbered ones are peppery allegros. Keen listeners will detect references to that old, Russian favorite the Dies Irae in the first movement. As with most of Amirov's music, folk elements are pervasive.

Alexander Arutiunian (Armenia, b. 1920) is represented by his sinfonietta for strings (1966). Again in four movements, but only about half as long as the Amirov, this is a tiny Armenian gem with a catchy pizzicato intermezzo and a whirlwind finale.

Sulkhan Nasidze's (Georgia, 1927-1996) Chamber Symphony (No. 3, 1969) follows. This one-movement work is spiced with meow-like quartertones and a number of other inventive string effects. There are some high energy passages that must have frazzled a few bows when the Caucasian Chamber Orchestra musicians tackled this one!

Seven miniatures (no dates given) by Sulkhan Tsintsadze (Georgia, 1925-1991) and two pieces based on Armenian folk songs (no dates given) by Sergey Aslamazian (Armenia, 1897-1978) complete this imaginatively programmed Naxos release. Originally for string quartet, you'll find these arrangements for string orchestra, with occasional help from the percussion are some the most ear-catching selections on this disc. Colorfully Eastern, they have a folk-like spontaneity and rhythmic variety that make for some very infectious listening. Aram Khachaturian move over!

Judging from the spectacular playing on this disc, one can only assume that every member of the Caucasian Chamber Orchestra must be a virtuoso of some note. But conductor Uwe Berkemer keeps everyone together in what must be some of the most articulate and spirited performances one could ask for from a string orchestra.

The string sound is very good, but could have stood a little more breathing space, which would have given it that sheen and richness found on demonstration-quality discs.

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