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Written by Geoffrey Norris 
Published on
Saturday 21 February 2015

Tchaikovsky’s oft-recorded Serenade for Strings is given fresh impetus here by the Scottish Ensemble, rich in sonority, precise in articulation, mellifluous in the flow of string textures and dynamic shading. The phrasing of the waltz is appealingly and artlessly pliable, the melodic lines of the elegy seamlessly spun above their pizzicato accompaniment. This is a performance that highlights Tchaikovsky’s inventiveness and skill in crafting a piece for strings alone, while at the same time generating a real sense of inspired spontaneity.

Shostakovich’s Second String Quartet of 1944 is played here in an arrangement by the Scottish Ensemble’s artistic director and leader, Jonathan Morton. It therefore follows in the tradition of Rudolf Barshai’s orchestral versions of some of Shostakovich’s quartets, including most famously the Eighth. Morton’s transcription makes the transition well. He sensibly preserves the solo violin line in the recitatives of the second movement and uses solo violin and viola at the start of the finale.

Elsewhere, the Scottish Ensemble’s playing keeps a close eye on the score’s detailed expression marks, sacrificing none of the music’s immediacy and intensity but tellingly augmenting its spectrum of colour.

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