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Oleg Ledeniov
MusicWeb International, November 2010

I will begin with a citation from the composer’s notes to the disc. It’s a key to understanding this music: “I spent my childhood in the small Russian town of Aleksin, situated on the river Oka, 300 kilometres south of Moscow. My grandfather was an Orthodox priest there. When I was growing up, purely entertaining, commercial music was not yet as ubiquitous as it is now on television, radio, in stations, sea-ports and shops…It was still possible to hear choral songs, the sound of the accordion, the strumming of the balalaika, funeral laments, and the cries of shepherds at dawn, coming from beyond a river, enveloped in fog. All that distant and now extinct musical atmosphere of a Russian province is strongly etched in my childhood memories. I think, in all three compositions on this recording, it has found its own nostalgic echo.”

In the post-Shostakovich era, Rodin Shchedrin was and still is probably the closest to epitomizing the Russian national character in music. Not the Soviet, not the populist or the avant-garde. More and more since the 1980s, it’s all about the Russia of his childhood, of his memory, of the spirit that probably still survives only in a few remote villages and monasteries, where the time stands still. The nature, the mysticism, the faith, the folklore met and mixed here. If your concept of Russian music is based on the image of painted ivanushkas prancing on balalaikas, or on the more idealistic views of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov, you may be surprised. Shchedrin works on such deep levels that he rarely reaches the surface for glossy ornaments—except occasionally, as in the ballet “The Hunchbacked Horse”. He works with the roots, elements and essence of Russian music. In this, he is closer to the raw and rough images of Mussorgsky and Stravinsky. Unlike these two, he is not a revolutionary. Also, unlike them, he is a great master of the orchestral palette. And this is nowhere as discernible as in his Concertos for Orchestra, of which there are five. The present disc contains the world premiere recordings of No.4 and No.5, as well as of a smaller piece the orchestration of which is no less masterful.

The Concerto No.4, “Khorovody” (Roundelays, or Round Dances) takes its start from those “cries of shepherds at dawn, coming from beyond a river, enveloped in fog”. This is the warmest of the three compositions, lit by a serene smile. The opening scene, led by the evocative alto recorder, is unforgettable. The dance begins, first reticent, then becomes more intense and adventurous. Like a Russian echo of Ravel’s Bolero, the first part of the work unfolds in one slow crescendo. The music is based on a small set of motifs over an ostinato bass, with fluid changes of color and a shower of orchestral effects. In the middle section a new dance begins, first tiptoeing, then more angular and dissonant. It reminded me a little of the Giuoco delle coppie from Bartók’s namesake work. The tension grows and bursts into an exalted celebration, with a lot of bells and shiny metal. The ending returns to the quiet and pastoral scene of the opening. It is less varicolored now: the dancers, tired but content, return to their homes. The entire concerto is so colorful and full of surprises that it is hard to believe that this is its first recording since it was composed in 1989. On the other hand, it is an almost half hour long extended folk dance, without that much action. What one can see as mesmerizing, another may call monotonous. I liked the piece. It has some of the primal rawness and rhythmic urgency of The Rite of Spring.

The composer has likened his Concerto for Orchestra No.5 to “a journey by troika, the traditional Russian carriage drawn by three horses, travelling to four cities, and hearing different songs along the route”. The sound of the jingle bells and the “sleigh-ride” rhythm define the opening section and will return later, unifying the entire work. We hear archaic monotone chanting; pizzicato imitating a balalaika; a melancholic dance; sleigh bells again. The voyage is long – long—long. This may be right for a description of endless Russian landscapes, but for a concerto for orchestra such extended development is unusual and probably unexpected. However, Shchedrin keeps entertaining us along the way with his orchestration. A new section opens like a new page. The music is bright and solemn, with the stride of a stately procession. Next comes a celebratory page, one big fanfare. It ends in a massive explosion of bells of all kinds and sorts. The last minutes return us to the troika ride. The melancholic dance that we already heard reveals its nature: it is a “tsyganochka”, a Russian gipsy dance. The final resolution is effective and spectacular. Although this concerto is shorter than its predecessor, I must confess that I had some difficulty maintaining attention. There are some wonderful moments, but they are as wide-spaced as towns on an endless Russian road.

The third piece, Kristallene Gusli, was written as a present to Shchedrin’s friend Toru Takemitsu. It reflects the static, meditative style of the late Japanese composer. The music is like a shining field of plasma, a golden cloud, inside which solid objects float and turn slowly. It is fascinating and does not outstay its welcome. It can also serve as a manual of string effects. Unlike melancholic Takemitsu, the mood is positive, bright and confident. The composer inserts his signature near the end: in the low background two horns exchange phrases which sound to me like citations from Shchedrin’s first Concerto for Orchestra, Naughty Limericks.

The playing of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Kirill Karabits is excellent. The score is loaded with non-standard moves and touches, every instrument has an important role, and the orchestra shows no weak links. The required virtuosity is provided in plenty. All layers are balanced, and every subtle detail is heard. This is also due to the outstanding engineering. The notes by the composer, by the conductor, and by Andrew Burn provide a kaleidoscopic view on these kaleidoscopic works, each complementing the others.

These works should have been recorded long ago. But they weren’t, and now, frankly, I’m afraid there won’t be doubling in the near future: the recording by Karabits hits the bull’s eye. This music is not for easy entertainment. Although it is tonal and accessible, it does not serve you something sweet and easy to digest. Instead, try to see the world through the composer’s eyes, take a swim in this sea of iridescent colors, relax and trust him. In the end you will be glad that you took this endless Russian road.

Stephen Estep
American Record Guide, September 2010

Rodion Shchedrin’s Concerto for Orchestra No. 4, Khorovody (Roundelays, 1989), depicts the days when young Russians sang and danced the traditional round-dances; it’s very cinematic: a recorder, playing in very unequal temperament begins, sounding like it’s in the fog across the river; then a pleasant, simple, quiet dance starts, with an ostinato that centers on the first three notes of the major scale, which continues through the piece. His orchestration is sophisticated and unusual (and quite effective)—I’d love to see the score...Concerto 5, Four Russian Songs, uses a Russian folk-song (‘Glory to God on This Earth’) Rimsky-Korsakoff included in his collection of 100 Russian Folk-Songs...Kristallene Gusli was written in 1999 for Takemitsu’s jubilee. Shchedrin says, “maybe there are echoes of his ‘watercolor’ compositional aesthetics to be heard here”...These are the first recordings of all three, and the orchestra plays exceptionally well: I’m very impressed with their sound, control, and professional approach...

John Warrack
Gramophone, August 2010

Shchedrin’s colourful concertos for orchestra, well performed and recorded…Kirill Karabits and the BSO do brilliantly with it all, and so, crucially, do the recording engineers in capturing all the delicate and original sounds.

David Nice
BBC Music Magazine, August 2010

Bournemouth’s promising principal conductor Kirill Karabits…[is] well served by both his orchestra and the Naxos production team.

David Hurwitz, May 2010

This is an exciting release of excellent music by one of Russia’s greatest living composers (except that the last time I checked the Shchedrins were residents of Munich). As a composer, Rodion Shchedrin has been cursed by the popularity of his “Carmen” Ballet, but while you won’t find the same level of tunefulness (obviously) in his original music, there’s a similarly brilliant orchestral imagination at work, and no small level of arresting invention. Concerto No. 4, inspired by the folk music of Shchedrin’s childhood, contains evocative writing for (among other things) recorder and harpsichord. Shostakovich’s famous “tick-tock” percussion from the Fourth and Fifteenth symphonies also features prominently.

Shchedrin actually quotes a traditional Russian song in the Fifth concerto, but the remaining tunes are all original, and the title suggests the work’s form—a simple alternation (with variations) of the basic material. Although characterized by some powerfully dissonant outbursts, the progress of the music is always clear and easy to follow, and the mood of both concertos is predominantly lyrical and often quite nostalgic. They are beautiful works. Kristallene Gusli is a brief, atmospheric exercise in mostly high sonorities, and it reveals Shchedrin’s ability to write effective “modern” music (by which I mean essentially texture-based or athematic).

The performances under the able leadership of Kirill Karabits sound very confident, with the orchestra playing extremely well in music that affords numerous solo opportunities. Shchedrin attended the sessions and pronounced himself fully satisfied with the results. Certainly I see no reason to take issue with his judgment. The sonics are also extremely vivid and remarkably well balanced given some of the tricky juxtapositions of texture and sonority that Shchedrin explores in all of this music. Without question this is a major release from a composer who richly deserves the attention.

John J. Puccio
Classical Candor, May 2010

Shchedrin fills his 1989 Concerto for Orchestra No. 4 “Khorovody” (Roundelays) with an abundance of clever ideas and unusual combinations of instruments. Played as a single, extended series of round dances nearly a half an hour long, it is mostly gentle and relaxed, accelerating as it goes along, with echos of whistling winds, sleigh bells, distant thunder, folklike dance tunes of the composer's invention, with a recurring recorder keeping it all knit together. By the time it concludes, the music has built up into a minor fury, finally subsiding back into the calm in which it started. Conductor Kirill Karabits and his Bournemouth Symphony players maintain an easygoing approach to the music and appear to enjoy a time well spent.

Concerto Orchestra No. 5, also premiered in 1989 and again set in a single movement, is a bit shorter than No. 4 at a little over twenty minutes and scored for a slightly smaller ensemble. This time Shchedrin uses a well-known Russian folk tune in the work, but the mood remains the same as the composer takes us on a musical journey via horse and carriage through various landscapes. Shchedrin says these treks are nostalgic childhood memories of his. Fair enough. It's all enjoyable stuff if somewhat light and not a little wistful in its sonorities.

I rather enjoyed the brief concluding piece, Kristallene Gusli (Crystal Psaltery), best of all. Composed in 1994, it reminds one of exactly what conductor Karabits says of it, describing it as sounding “like Japanese wind chimes.”

There is plenty of clarity to the Naxos sound, making the diverse solo percussion instruments stand out smoothly and accurately. The orchestra never appears fogged over but displays ample detail and air. There is a particularly wide stereo spread involved, so the overall effect can be quite dramatic, though not overpowering.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, April 2010

Prolific in his output, the name of Rodion Shchedrin has entered the popular repertoire with his colourful reworking of Bizet in his Carmen Suite. It was a piece generated by his marriage to a prima ballerina of the Bolshoi Ballet. Maya Plisetskaya, and is far from typical of a composing style that is always evolving. At times he looks backwards for inspiration in dressing old ideas in a new garb; at times pleasingly tonal; sometimes provocatively atonal, but always looking to find new boundaries. The present release offers the first recording of two of his ongoing series of Concertos for Orchestra. Unlike previous works with such titles, these are far removed from showpieces, the music often slow and thinly textured. The Fourth is subtitled ‘Khorovody’ (Roundelays), its pleasing melodic repetition toying with minimalism, the composer creating his own folk round-dances, the opening so quiet it appears to grow out of silence. Four Russian Songs is added to the description of the Fifth, and here he uses a true traditional song but imagines and creates three others. I find Prokofiev in the background, the work mostly quiet and lyric in a modern guise. Finding a correct volume level with this disc is not easy as the beginning of Kristallene Gusli (Crystal Psaltery) is so quiet it is intentionally near inaudible. It’s gentle wash of sound would have its roots in the age of the Impressionists, the orchestration delicate and transparent.  Shchedrin, who was at the recording session, speaks highly of the Bournemouth and its newly appointed Russian conductor, Kirill Karabits. The many solos certainly sound beautiful, the full orchestra most impressive as is the sound engineering. A major release of 20th century music.

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