February 18, 2008

Chamber Orchestra Kremlin

Eclecticism is alive and well among contemporary Russian composers, at least judging by the main works on the Chamber Orchestra Kremlin's program Friday at the Library of Congress. Boris Tishchenko's Concerto for Violin, Piano and Strings, and Leonard Eskin's song cycle "there . . . " for Soprano and Strings -- both of the 2006 pieces received their American premieres from this orchestra Tuesday at New York's Weill Recital Hall -- are crazy quilts of diverse musical styles that bring to mind the work of Alfred Schnittke (whose wonderfully cartoonish deconstruction of 18th-century material, "Moz-Art a la Haydn," was also played on Friday).

The concerto opens with cryptic lines for violin and piano (lush-toned violinist Valeriy Sokolov and incisive pianist Yuri Polubelov were well matched here) against anguished chords in the orchestra, moves on to an Andante where melodies seem to melt away in mock-grotesque string glissandos, and winds up with music so heart-on-the-sleeve sentimental and memorably hummable that it could have been written by Bernstein. The song cycle sets Russian- and English-language texts by the Soviet-exiled Joseph Brodsky, the former U.S. poet laureate, to a stratospheric soprano line (pert and nimble-voiced Julia Kogan up to the challenge) and a constantly shifting fabric of earthy Russian melody, folksy Americana and all sorts of wryly spoofed dance forms, from ragtime to tango.

Tishchenko and Leonard Eskin use polystylistic writing in fresh ways, and each piece proved thoroughly absorbing -- especially when played with such warmth and tight ensemble by this all-string orchestra, under its founder, Misha Rachlevsky.