SHCHEDRIN: Carmen Suite for Strings and Percussion (1967). Russian
Photographs (1994). Velicanie (Glorification) (1995)
Kremlin Chamber Orch/Misha Rachlevsky, cond.
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Rodion Shchedrin remains an active major figure on the
Russian scene. This CD combines one of his best-known works with music
written during the last decade, which here receive their premiere recordings.
Shchedrin first gained international recognition in 1967 for his Carmen
to star his wife, ballerina Maya Plisetskaya. Arranged solely for percussion
and strings, this remains an audience favorite as an orchestral piece,
an incredibly imaginative treatment of Bizet's music (the Toreador
Song" tune, so well-known, isn't even played in Shchedrin's arrangement—the
listener adds it to the accompaniment). The premiere was not well received.
One well-known composer said, "This is blasphemy! Just think what the
French will say. Can you imagine what we would think if they would
dare to make a ballet out of Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov!" The ballet
banned after just one performance because of the "sexual depiction
of the main character"—and, indeed, one can imagine how sensuous the
exotic Plisetskaya would have made it. However, Shostakovich loved
the work, went to the Ministry of Culture and used his considerable
influence to gain government acceptance, calling the score "a joyful
of ballet, and beyond that a major success in Soviet music." It's interesting
that Plisetskaya initially approached Shostakovich to write a Carmen ballet. He declined, saying "there is no way to do it better than Bizet"
after which she asked her husband to write it. The first recording,
on Melodiya, with Gennady Rozhdestvensky was an instant hit with collectors,
followed in 1969 by an RCA recording with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston
"Pops." There have been a number of recordings since, but this latest
one with Misha Rachlevsky conducting is among the best and has been
superbly recorded with every bit of the scintilating percussion vividly
Russian Photographs composed in 1994 has four
Ancient Town of Aeksin, Cockroaches throughout Moscow (Music in D
Evening Bells), which the composer called "snapshots of Russian
life." Lots of grating strings throughout, with a semi-hoedown in Cockroaches,
a lugubrious Stalin-Cocktail at the end of which the orchestra shouts,
and Evening Bells which has no bells. More grating, dissonant
strings are heard in Valicanie, composed in 1995, which depicts
an ancient Russin
folk song in which those
for their accomplishments soon afterwards are disgraced.
As mentioned above, sonic quality is exceptionally fine,
and the Kremlin Chamber Orchestra, which Rachlevsky founded in 1991,
is a virtuoso-ensemble.
R.E.B. (July 2003)