Russian Masquerade (SACD)

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Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra, Sakari Oramo

Composed in Russia between 1884 and 1917, the four works appearing on this disc all do so in some kind of disguise. Prokofiev and Scriabin both conceived their respective collections for the piano, and it is later arrangers that have adapted them for string orchestra. Rudolf Barshai took on Prokofiev’s Visions Fugitives in 1962, selecting 15 of the 20 brief pieces and arranging them for his own ensemble, the Moscow Chamber Orchestra. Scriabin’s Preludes received a similar treatment in 1999 when the Finnish composer Jouni Kaipainen chose 13 from the original 24, rearranging the order they appear in and in some cases transposing them.

As for Anton Arensky (1861—1909), he composed his set of variations as the third movement of a string quartet, taking the theme from a song by Tchaikovsky and letting it undergo a series of transformations. Cheered by the success of the piece, he made his own arrangement for larger forces, a version which remains one of his bestknown works. Tchaikovsky’s Elegy, finally, is actually heard here as it was composed, in 1884, but the piece saw the light of day as ‘A Thankful Greeting’ and was renamed ‘Elegy’ only at the time of publication, before making a final reappearance, as part of the composer’s music to Hamlet. The four works are performed by the Ostrobothnian Chamber Orchestra, one of Finland’s finest ensembles, conducted by its artistic director Sakari Oramo.

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Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953), arr. Barshai
1-15. Visions fugitives

Alexander Scriabin (1871-1915), arr. Kaipainen
16-28. Preludes, Op. 11

Anton Arensky (1861-1909)
29-37. Variations on a Theme by Tchaikovsky, Op. 35a

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-93)
38. Elegy for string orchestra

The Classical Music Collector

"“Composed in Russia between 1884 and 1917, the four works appearing on this disc all do so in some kind of disguise”, says the copy for this CD. The disguise that the first two works wear is that of being orchestrated piano pieces, selected from Prokofiev’s Op. 22 Visions fugitives, and Scriabin’s Preludes, Op. 11. More different works would be hard to imagine, the expressively elusive Prokofiev contrasting with the hyper-romantic Scriabin; the juxtaposition is underlined by the effective string orchestra arrangements, and the excellent recording brings out all their colour. The other two works on the disc have more in common with the Scriabin than Prokofiev: Arensky’s Variations on a Theme of Tchaikovsky takes one of the loveliest tunes in all Tchaikovsky’s output, known in English as Legend: The Crown of Roses (or Christ had a garden), and unfolds seven beautiful and idiomatic re-imaginings of this exquisite theme, rearranged by the composer from string quartet to string orchestra. The disc ends with Tchaikovsky’s own Elegyfor strings in its original version, a wistful piece that epitomises the flavour of the whole program. This is a truly delectable CD, not least for its fine playing and recording, but also for providing a different take on the Russian soul." - Chris Dench