English String Miniatures, Vol. 3.
MARTELLI:  Persiflage.  FINZI:  Prelude.  Romance.  HOLST:  Brook Green Suite.  BLEZARD:  Duetto.  HURD:  Sinfonia Concertante.  WOOD: An 18th Century Scherzo.  MONTGOMERY:  Concertino for String Orchestra.
Royal Ballet Sinfonia; David Lloyd-Jones, cond.

NAXOS 8.555069 (B) (ADD) TT:  60:30
TCHAIKOVSKY-BREINER: Songs arranged for violin and orchestra:  Forgive, Op. 60, No. 8.  If only I had known, Op. 47, No. 1.  Was I not a little blade of grass, Op. 47, No. 7.  Two radiant eyes, Op. 16, No. 5.  Behind the window of the shadow, Op. 60, No. 10.  Amid the din of the ball, Op. 38, No. 3.  The Canary, Op. 25, No. 4.  Why? Op. 6, No. 5.  My spoilt darling, Op. 27, No. 6.  Tell me what in the shade of the branches, Op. 57, No. 1.  Why did I dream of you?  Op. 28, No. 3. Not a word, O my friend, Op. 6, No. 2.  The fearful minute, Op. 28, No. 6.  I should like in a single word.  He loved me so much, Op. 28, No. 4.  I opened the window, Op. 63, No. 2. None but the lonely heart, Op. 6, No. 6.  Frenzied nights, Op. 60, No. 6.  Reconciliation, Op. 25, No. 1. Night, Op. 60, No. 9.  Death, Op. 57, No. 5.  Pimpinella, Op. 38, No. 6
Takako Nishizaki, violinist/Queensland Symphony Orch; Peter Breiner, cond.

NAXOS 8.555332 (B) (DDD) TT:  76:29

"Russian Romance"
Snow Flurries, Dark is the Night, Moscow Nights, Little Snowball, Down the Volga River, Dark Eyes, The Red sarafan, Stenka Razin, Meadowland, Song of the Volga Boatmen, The Light, Along the Peterskaya Road
Takako Nishizaki, violinist/Queensland Symphony Orch; Peter Breiner, cond.

NAXOS 8.555331 (B) (DDD) TT:  61:09

Here are two delectable collections beautifully performed and splendidly recorded -- and one that disappoints.  English String Miniatures begins with a dazzling Persiflage ("banter"), by Carlo Martelli who was born in 1935 in London of an Italian father and English mother.  This 5-minute piece, reminiscent of Leroy Anderson, is a virtuoso challenge for string ensemble magnificently met by the splendid orchestra.  The CD ends with a 15-minute concertino for string orchestra by Bruce Montgomery (1921-1978), who composed scores for all of the "Doctor" and the first four of the "Carry On" films.  In between we have lighter works of Finzi, Holst, Blezard, Hurd and Haydn Wood.  Interesting that production of this CD was made possible by "generous support" from Hurd, Blezard, Martelli and the Finzi Trust.  They can feel that their contributions were for a most worthy project -- this CD is certain to bring much pleasure.

Czech-born (1957) Peter Breiner is a pianist, conductor, arranger and sometime talk-show host.  He made award-winning Baroque arrangements of  Beatles songs, and his tasteful arrangements of Spanish Dances of Granados for guitar and orchestra available on Naxos is a winner (see review).  His imaginative arrangement of the complete Iberia of Albeniz is diminished by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra performance, also on Naxos. This very effective set of 22 songs of Tchaikovsky arranged by Breiner features Japanese violinist Takako Nishizaki who plays these beautiful tunes masterfully and with caressing tone letting the music speak for itself.  Almost any of these songs could be an interlude from one of Tchaikovsky's ballets -- delectable listening indeed.

The disappointing disk is Russian Romance, a collection of Russian folk and folk-inspired music including many well-known tunes, also arranged for violin and orchestra.  The solo violin almost seems incidental in much of this (in two of the pieces Moscow Nights and Dark Eyes a piano has the solos), quotes from other Tchaikovsky symphonic works are obvious ploys, and there is no sound of Russian folk instruments -- which surely would have been appropriate.  Not a balalaika to be heard, unfortunately.

Sound on all three CDs is typical of Naxos' superb engineering.  Two recommendations out of three.

R.E.B. (Jan. 2002)