Hyperion Records

Six Études for strings and organ
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Études of one kind or another are dotted throughout Tchaikovsky’s output, even in works such as the Chamber Symphony where the title is not explicitly used. Like his fellow Shostakovich-pupil, Georgy Sviridov, and indeed like Shostakovich himself in his last decade, Tchaikovsky seems to have become increasingly concerned to probe the inner properties of seemingly inscrutable musical statements. In the Six Études for Strings and Organ of 1976 any hint of the florid or the self-indulgent is scrupulously avoided. The writing is not strictly twelve-note, though Tchaikovsky had earlier dabbled with dodecaphony and the experience of that discipline seems to have helped him to discover the suggestive power of the smallest musical cells, even of silence itself. The power of the unsaid radiates also from the understated organ part – from the fact that the instrument’s colouristic and dynamic resources are for the most part withheld or denatured.

The rocking motion of the preludial first study, touched off by the merest hints from the organ, sets the scene. This is followed by a fast study largely in pared-down two-part writing, with the organ’s repeated-note additions sounding uncannily like a balalaika. Mirror-form motifs are the driving force in the moderately paced third study, together with a brief central episode for strings that takes the ‘study’ idea to an extreme, this being the kind of rhythm exercise routinely inflicted on students in advanced conservatoire aural training classes. The merest snatches of figuration on the organ define the fourth study’s character as a kind of failed toccata, the failure symbolizing, it may be thought, Tchaikovsky’s distaste for the easy opportunism so rampant in Soviet music at the time, on both the radical and the conservative wings. With the C major fifth study we are once again in the realm of ironically sweet Bachian preluding, and the impulse towards passionate unfolding is once again choked. The sixth study is a finale of sorts, in that it goes the furthest in terms of developing its material.

from notes by David Fanning © 2004

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