Tchaikovsky: Souvenir de Florence / Schoenberg: Transfigured Night (CD)

Northern Flowers
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Divertissement, Ilya Ioff


Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840 – 1893)
Souvenir de Florence, string sextet, Op. 70 (1890)

1. Allegro con spirito

2. Adagio cantabile e con moto

3. Allegretto moderato

4. Allegro vivace

Arnold Schoenberg (1874 - 1951)

5. Transfigured Night, string sextet, Op. 4 (1899), Arrangement for string orchestra by the Composer

Recorded: St. Catherine Lutheran Church, St. Petersburg, April 1&2, May 7&8, 2002. Sound recording & supervision: Viktor Dinov.
Text: Yuri Serov. English translation: Sergei Suslov
Design: Anastasiya Evmenova & Oleg Fakhrutdinov

Souvenir de Florence
“I started the sextet three days ago, and am now writing it with a tremendous effort. The drag is not in a lack of thought, but rather in the novelty of the form… What I want is not to compose just any music and to arrange it for six instruments afterwards, but a genuine sextet. Six individual voices, and homogeneous too, are needed. This is unbelievably hard, ” wrote Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky to his brother Modest
The composer superbly succeeded in the task he had set, achieving a nearly orchestra–range amplitude and diversity. The Sextet is a fusion of the tragic anxiety of Tchaikovsky’s last period and his longing for the aura of folk, primarily Italian, music. The first movement (Allegro con spirito) is full of tragic emotion, while its tunes originate from passionate Italian instrumental traditionals; the adorable serenade in the second movement (Adagio cantabile) is but occasionally interrupted by intrusions of gloomy images of a funeral liturgy; and the poetical melancholy and unity of beat in the third movement (Allegretto moderato) are akin to Beethoven’s famous Allegretto from the Seventh Symphony, while the finale (Allegro vivace) combines a springy tarantella rhythm, a hefty march–like attitude, and a frenzied folk–dance.
The Souvenir de Florence sextet for two violins, two violas, and two cellos was conceived by Tchaikovsky in the Florence winter and spring of 1890 that are so memorable for Russian music. It was developing at the same time as The Queen of Spades, and became one of the most inspired and perfect creations of the great master.

Transfigured Night (Verklarte Nacht)
is the first mature opus of Arnold Schoenberg. This composer, conductor, theorist, and educator made a historic contribution in the development of the 20th century's music, the head of the New Viennese school, originator and ideologist of the dodecaphonic method of composing.
The Sextet, written in 1899 after Richard Demel’s poem “Woman and the World”, owes much to the 19th century in its musical language and literary program. Moreover, Transfigured Night is much deeper related to the Romanticism traditions than symphonic works by Richard Strauss written about that same time, or even earlier symphonies of Anton Bruckner. The Transfigured Night indicates a strong influence of Wagner’s philosophy, and the music themes of the opus and their polyphonic rendering remind of the style of Johannes Brahms.
In the literary source of the Sextet we find typical attributes of the Romantic era: a woman and a man; a moonlit night; delight in the beauty of Nature. The composer followed the contents of the book in every detail, with all deviations from the general sonata allegro pattern attributable to the text. Richard Demel wrote to Schoenberg that he, when listening to Transfigured Night in concert, was trying to track the motives of his text, but soon forgot it enchanted by the music.
В 1917 Schoenberg re–arranged the Sextet for a string orchestra, and in 1943 he completed its new version, which is presented on this disk.
— Northern Flowers
Among the very large number of chamber orchestras, which have appeared lately, comparatively few are really good and enjoy constant popularity. Some of these can be found in St. Petersburg too. It is extremely difficult for а newcomer to gain the same standing. Yet the company of artists and friends called the Divertissement managed to do it. The ensemble was created in 1990 by the violinist Yelena Komarova and its first members were mainly students and alumni of her Conservatory class.
Since the 1998–1999 season the ensemble has been headed by Ilia Ioff, a violinist and conductor with а reputation as а brilliant soloist, ensemble player and teacher. The winner of prestigious international competitions in Germany and Italy, he is well known to audiences in St. Petersburg and other cities in and outside Russia for his solo performances in symphonic programs conducted by such outstanding maestros as Yuri Temirkanov, Maris Yansons, and Saulyus Sondetzkis, and for his playing with violinist Sergey Stadler, Marta Argerich, and cellist Aleksandr Rudin.
After the new art director joined the Divertissement, the ensemble grew and included several more promising musicians. One could say, judging by the average age of its members, that this is now the youngest ensemble of this kind in Russia. Among the successful performers of the ensemble are Lidia Kovalenko, an excellent violinist known also for her recitals; Mikhail Blekher, an expert in works of old masters, pianist, and harpsichord player; and Grigoriy Voskoboynik, a brilliant double–bass player who can, by the way, interpret both classical and jazz music with equal ease. Talent and excellent education powered by young enthusiasm and impetuosity, and combined with а strict creative discipline of the musicians (the ensemble’s director Mikhail Kreiz, а well–known musician and manager, does much to impose it on them) deeply impress the audience. Usually there are no empty seats when the Divertissement gives а concert, and an atmosphere of lofty joy pervades the hall, which makes the event а real festivity.
As to its repertoire, maestro Ioff has no intention of limiting to any historical, stylistic or genre boundaries. Monographic programs dedicated to Bach, Vivaldi, Mendelssohn and Schnittke, rehearsed for а short time and then brilliantly performed, seem to affirm that the ensemble is open to very different kinds of music, from quite serious works to easier, though still good, pieces.
— Prof. Mikhail Bialik,
musical critic