Back in July I posted an album containing Sergei Vasilenko's rather fascinating Concerto for Balalaika and Orchestra. Finally I have located another one of my Vasilenko discs, this time on Marco Polo.
Sergei Nikiforovich Vasilenko (1872-1956) was a Muscovite and distinguished and long-serving composition teacher at the Moscow Conservatoire-he joined in 1905 and remained there until his death 50 years later-and one with a particular reputation for his orchestration class. The two suites reflect this, as well as another of his great interests, the music of Asian countries both within and outside the Soviet Union. He spent a lot of time in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in particular and the inspiration shows in many of his works (and indeed, Vasilenko wrote a lot). It is easy to admire and enjoy his orchestral artistry, which reflects the ‘oriental’ manner of Rimsky-Korsakov in the lucid textures and the skilled selection of instruments. The material is somewhat underwhelming(on this disc that is), at least in my opinion, with a good many predictable turns of phrase to suggest the exotic. However, Vasilenko is certainly a master of the orchestra and a fastidious craftsman, and there are many lovely effects to beguile the ear, and I do enjoy the results. Nothing of this tends to fat. Lines are lucid and clean. A lot of the music on this disc is 'quiet', which does give it an additional air of mystery.
In the Chinese Suite No. 1 Op. 60, as odd as this might sound, the first couple movements sound, to these ears-like the result of what would have happened if Vasilenko and Delius (only living on the other side of the globe) became best friends(!) and the oft gentle, and breezy side of Delius had rubbed off on his "best buddy" from the Soviet Union. After this, we have the denser "Burial" (movement 3) with a few echoes (again, to my ears anyhow) of British composition, Vaughan Williams(!) in particular. All of this is fleeting however, keeping the Suite firmly planted in the composer's fascination with the Orient. The last two movements are my favorites, the final even more so with it's sparkling introduction of bell sounds, and further usage of 'mystic' bells throughout. I also like the excitement generated by the brass towards the satisfying peroration. Bells are used throughout the Suite, which is a nice touch.
The Indian Suite can be sentimental but generally Vasilenko avoids Ketelbey-like kitsch. Shooting these rapids can sometimes be a close squeeze as in Whirling Dance in the Indian Suite or the Chinese Suite's Joyful Dance not to mention the almost Gaelic Lament in the latter. The Indian Suite is also frequently more animated than the Chinese, in a Rimsky-Korsakovian style for sure. This is imo a nice listen, volume needs to up quite a bit-and for me whilst relaxing (yet focused on the music at hand) in a dark room, typically from my bed.
|Segei Vasilenko is on the right, with his friend the poet Demyan.|