REVIEW: Tchaikovsky: Album for the Young (arr. Dubinsky), String Quartet no.1 op.11. Stravinisky: Concertino. Schnittke: Canon in memoriam Igor Stravinsky, Various Variations on a Russian Folk Song


The Strad issue



Sophisticated performances of Russian music for quartet


Kuss Quartet


Tchaikovsky (arr. Dubinsky), Stravinisky, Schnittke

As the booklet notes for this CD point out, the string quartet was not a natural medium for Russian composers of the 19th century, especially when they were trying to be properly Russian. So the multi-composer set of ten Variations on a Russian Folk Song, although written in 1898, doesn’t come across as particularly idiomatic. Even the folk-song theme was actually written by Rimsky-Korsakov, who provided a delightful variation decorated with pizzicato. The theme also gives rise to rather good canon and fugato variations by Lyadov and Winkler, and there is a gentle, unassuming variation by Scriabin. The Kuss Quartet plays them all, along with the arrangements of Tchaikovsky’s Album for the Young, with a sophisticated and easy charm.

The first piece from Tchaikovsky’s Album sits separately from the rest, perhaps because it, too, is a ‘Russian’ melody, this time a real one. The players then take a detour into the 20th century with strong, understated performances of the Concertino by the Russian exile Stravinsky and Schnittke’s Canon in memoriam Igor Stravinsky. Tchaikovsky’s First String Quartet receives a thoughtful, lyrical performance, which gives full credit to the composer’s contrapuntal part-writing and gentle sensibilities – unlike too many who perform this work with a symphonic swagger. The recorded sound is warm and clear.