The Strad Issue: January 2009
Musicians: Moscow Soloists, Yuri Bashmet (conductor)
Composer: Grieg, Mozart, Tchaikovsky

Despite its obvious merits, I cannot issue a compulsory purchase order for this disc. At least one colleague has raved about it but I am left with a rather chilly impression, not least from the actual recordings.

Bashmet makes the Holberg Suite sound a bit exotic, partly through slight over-accenting in the Praeludium and Gavotte. Solos are nicely taken but the lack of vibrato sometimes verges on mannerism. The Rigaudon is rather pulled about. The Norwegian Chamber Orchestra version (BIS) is simpler and sounds warmer even after almost 30 years.

Much of Eine kleine Nachtmusik is well enough played, although some of Bashmet’s little teases in the Allegro may not wear well on repetition. The Menuetto is rather brusque and too big a gap is left before the Trio. The finale involves some messing about and there is one lumpy phrase.

I would not dream of telling these musicians how to play Tchaikovsky, but I am sure the composer wanted a full symphonic string section. Everything is miniaturised here, which allows for faster tempos than usual but creates problems when the musical sense calls for some broadening – the contrast tends to be overdone.

The highlight of the performance is the Elegie, which is beautifully phrased. Strictly speaking, I suppose the touches of senza vibrato, as at the start of the finale, are close to what Tchaikovsky might have heard; but in this day and age, they sound contrived. I simply cannot imagine who will need this irrelevant CD.