Tchaikovskian favourites rendered fresh through pliant performances

United Strings of Europe: Tchaikovsky

The Strad Issue: April 2023

Description: Tchaikovskian favourites rendered fresh through pliant performances

Musicians: United Strings of Europe/Julian Azkoul (violin)

Works: Tchaikovsky: Serenade for Strings; Souvenir de Florence; Andante cantabile

Catalogue number: BIS 2569

The United Strings of Europe’s third album for BIS couples two Tchaikovsky favourites in performances that radiate bonhomie and intensity. Whereas Neville Marriner’s classic accounts with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields (the Souvenir especially) have a cathartic surge, articulating Tchaikovsky’s refulgent textures with lashings of downward pressure, Julian Azkoul, directing from the violin, provides a more overtly affectionate overview, with plenty of exquisite legato shadings.

In the Serenade, the beauty of sound is reminiscent of Karajan’s 1980s digital remake with the Berlin Philharmonic (DG), although there the resemblance ends, as the United Strings are both emotionally more flexible and lither in sonority. Azkoul also reminds us that Tchaikovsky borrowed the term ‘serenade’ from Mozart, and accordingly ensures that the music’s insouciant swaying and nimble dancing are imbued with sunshine.

This is also Azkoul’s starting point for the Souvenir de Florence. He enlivens and illuminates the minor-key darkness of the outer movements with a deftness that encapsulates the music’s chamber-scale origins. More serioso than overtly tragic, the music’s Florentine origins can be sensed more readily here than usual. Azkoul’s skilful arrangements of the famous Andante cantabile and At Bedtime (originally for mixed a cappella chorus) provide perfect makeweights.


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