Wrong, wrong and wrong again, thundered my colleague, Norman Lebrecht, in yesterday's Evening Standard, thereby guaranteeing the BBC's forthcoming Tchaikovsky Experience more curiosity and interest than the corporation's publicity department could have dreamed of affording.
His attack was on the BBC's cultural turpitude in general, and the choice of the all-time "chocolate box" composer for this wall-to-wall, complete works treatment in particular. The BBC, no doubt, can fend for itself. But the view that Tchaikovsky's music is merely decorative and devoid of deeper meaning is now so outdated that I must urge Norman, politely, to get out more.
Recent major studies by Richard Taruskin and Stephen Walsh have reminded us - though our ears tell us plainly - that Tchaikovsky was a key influence on Stravinsky, the towering musical genius of the last century. Shostakovich acknowledged his debt in every note he wrote. The list goes on.
A little known aspect of Tchaikovsky's work featured in a short, perfectly executed concert at the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Ennismore Gardens (above), for broadcast on Radio 3 on 14 February. The All-Night Vigil Opus 52, or Vespers, sets liturgical texts for mixed voices. Ancient chant combines with the ardent choral writing we know from Tchaikovsky's operas, here stripped bare but still radiant and full-bodied. The challenge to the performers, nearly an hour of vigorous unaccompanied singing, was met with masterly skill by the BBC Singers. Intonation was impressive, their attempt at a Russian sound quality highly creditable.
Three settings by Stravinsky, whose music also forms part of this Radio 3 season, were interpolated. The musical colours here shifted to snowy silvergreys, hushed and pure compared with the burnished golds of the Tchaikovsky. Both composers had decidedly unorthodox relationships with God but these works are a revelation to ear and mind. Those who dismiss Tchaikovsky as sugarladen schmaltz will, if they keep an open mind, discover through his music that the heart has an intellect all of its own.
Now for a bargain CD recommendation of the Tchikovsky Vespers visit Brilliant Russian sacred choral music
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