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The Russian Connection / Hexagon Ensemble

Release Date: 08/02/2005 
Label:  Etcetera Records   Catalog #: 1246   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Nikolai Rimsky-KorsakovMikhail Ippolitov-IvanovSergei VasilenkoPaul Juon
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hexagon Ensemble
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 10 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This is an interesting venture into piano and wind ensemble-writing across three generations of Russo-Soviet composers. Of the lot, only the Rimsky-Korsakov Quintet is relatively well known. He wrote it during a period of self-education, and the chamber medium lent itself to his experiments with counterpoint. (Counterpoint as such was still an occult science in Russia in those days. Polyphony entered the nation back during the early Baroque through Roman Catholic sources, and the two became inextricably linked in Russian culture as part of an attempt to overthrow the Russian Orthodox Church, and by implication, Russia, itself.) Rimsky-Korsakov entered the Quintet in a Read more competition and alleged afterwards that he?d lost to Napravnik because the latter?s assigned performers were considerably better musicians. There may have been some truth to this, as Teodor Leschetitzky, the great pianist and pedagogue, performed for Napravnik. No matter: Rimsky-Korsakov?s Quintet is an amiable piece whose Russian folk flavoring is most noticeable in the thematic contours and harmonic language of its second and third movements. It lacks the intensity of both some of his earlier and many of his later works, and brings to mind a criticism Tchaikovsky published in a book at the time suggesting that Rimsky-Korsakov?s ?contrapuntal phase? would either reduce him to a musical non-entity or turn him into a formidable composer of international rank. The Muscovite was right on the mark.

Ippolitov Ivanov was a Rimsky-Korsakov pupil, and not a bad one, if his few available works provide any grounds for judgment. An Evening in Georgia dates from 1926, but it could pass for a good work from the Belyaev Circle in the 1890s. Lyrical and imaginative, it?s a miniature composed at a time when Soviet society, like all revolutionary societies, demanded larger and gaudier canvases.

Despite his Romanticism, Ippolitov Ivanov was a learned and astute collector of folk-based musical materials in the republic of Georgia, a quality he passed on to his student Sergei Vasilenko (1872?1956). The latter?s Quartet on Turkmenian Themes is new to me, though Melodiya back in its LP days released a fine Viola Sonata by Vasilenko. There is an intriguing mixture of emotional distancing and personal quirkiness that recalls Janá?ek, or the more inventive chamber works by such contemporaneous Nordic composers as von Koch or Kvandal. Rarely do the themes betray their culture of origin; and in any case, it is their original treatment rather than intrinsic exoticism that commands interest.

Paul Juon (1872?1940) was trained by Arensky and Taneyev but left Russia in 1897 to settle in Berlin. Commentators have referred to him as ?the Russian Brahms,? without taking into account that his intricate, idiomatic writing owes more to Taneyev, while his lyrical melodic style is usually indebted to Rachmaninoff. Both of these aspects are on display here, but this 1913 Divertimento also shows him opening up to more international elements. There?s no mistaking moments of polyrhythmic treatment in the first movement or polytonality in the third, though little is effectively done with either. It?s a pleasant and professionally accomplished if uneven work, more interesting for where it points than what it achieves.

The Hexagon Ensemble was formed in the Netherlands in 1991 to perform music for piano and wind ensemble. Think there isn?t much written for this combination? Think again. The musicians have a large repertoire of 19th- and 20th-century works under their collective belts, with an emphasis on the latter; and the sheer number of compositions increases almost exponentially if you turn the six-sided ensemble into a pentagon or something less geometrically complex. The Hexagon folks have already issued several other recordings, so those familiar with their efforts will know what to expect: meticulous research and technical competence of a high order. Excellent tonal blending does not result in the kind of smoothed-out wind contours familiar from the Afflatus Quintet. The group possesses a buoyant sense of rhythm and an obvious enthusiasm for the music they play.

The engineering on this release is well balanced and lively. The liner notes are competent about obvious matters, while possessing a surprising number of errors that could and should have been fact-checked. For example, ?Prior to 1872, [Rimsky-Korsakov] concentrated mainly on symphonies??no, he didn?t??but in about 1878 he commenced a series of impressive operas,? actually begun 10 years earlier in 1868, with the first version of Pskovityanka . ?During the intervening five years he produced only a few piano works, a string sextet and the quintet recorded on this CD,? which is true if you leave out a series of six opus numbers all representing choral collections, the second version of the ?Antar? Symphony, a String Quartet?anyway, you get the idea.

Grumblings over liner notes to one side, definitely worth getting for its exploration of unusual Russian nationalist repertoire, and for the fine playing.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

Quintet for Piano and Winds in B flat major by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hexagon Ensemble
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1876; Russia 
Quintet for Piano and Winds, Op. 71 "An Evening in Georgia" by Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hexagon Ensemble
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1926; Moscow, Russia, USSR 
Quartet on Turkmenian themes, Op. 65 by Sergei Vasilenko
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hexagon Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1930; USSR 
Divertimento for Piano and Wind Quintet, Op. 51 by Paul Juon
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hexagon Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1913 

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