Arensky: String Quartet; Tchaikovsky: Souvenir de Florence
CDH55426 Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 1: Allegro con spirito
Movement 2: Adagio cantabile e con moto
Movement 3: Allegretto moderato
Movement 4: Allegro vivace
The work was sketched in under two weeks and fully scored in a further eleven days, but at a private performance in St Petersburg on 7 December 1890 neither he nor the musicians in the audience were entirely happy with the score, and after the first public performance three days later at the St Petersburg Chamber Music Society (which had commissioned the Sextet), Tchaikovsky laid the score aside. A year later the work was revised. The biggest changes were in the third movement, where a central triplet fugato passage was totally re-written, and in the fourth movement whose second theme was given a broader and more elaborate profile. In August Tchaikovsky sent the score for publication, and the first performance of the revised Sextet, with Leopold Auer leading, was given on 6 December 1892 at the St Petersburg Imperial Russian Musical Society.
The composition of Souvenir de Florence was not easy for Tchaikovsky. ‘I’m composing with unbelievable effort’, he wrote to his brother Modest on the day he started work. ‘I’m hampered not by lack of ideas but by the novelty of the form. There must be six independent and at the same time homogeneous parts.’ And to his friend Ziloti: ‘I constantly feel as though … I am in fact writing for the orchestra and just rearranging it for six string instruments.’ Perhaps Tchaikovsky never really solved this problem. Interpreters of the work today still face the conflicting demands of an orchestral or soloistic approach, and yet this encourages performers towards a virtuoso style which has helped place the Souvenir de Florence among the most popular works in the string chamber music repertoire.
The glorious duet for violin and cello in the Adagio was outlined in Florence during work on The Queen of Spades and probably gives the piece its title, but the whole work has an over-riding ‘Russian’ feel. The first movement, which was conceived in 1887 soon after Tchaikovsky had completed his opera The Enchantress, is rich in texture and exudes boldness and warmth. Folk-like melodies dominate the third and fourth movements, and it is the finale’s central fugato section which led Tchaikovsky to admit, ‘It is terrible how thrilled I am with my own work …’
from notes by Tim Boulton © 1993