Wiener Streichsextett

Rimsky-Korsakov & Tchaïkovsky

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If you didn't already know the music, would you be able to guess which of these two Russian sextets was the world-renown masterpiece and which was the barely known minor work? Probably not from this 2004 recording by the Wiener Streichsextett coupling of Rimsky-Korsakov's five-movement A major String Sextet and Tchaikovsky's four-movement D minor String Sextet called the Souvenir de Florence. Tchaikovsky's Sextet is a relatively late work; its composer died just three years later and it sounds here too strident in tone and too heavy in texture, as if the composer tried too hard in an uncongenial medium. On the other hand, Rimsky-Korsakov's Sextet is a work of his early maturity written more than a decade before Shéhérazade, and it sounds relaxed, lyrical, and more like Borodin in its easy temper. The quarter-century-old Wiener Streichsextett plays both works with great verve, energy, and unanimity of ensemble, and if their Tchaikovsky seems too stolid, compare it with the very Russian and yet still phlegmatic Borodin Quartet's performance. But however you like the Tchaikovsky, the Wiener Streichsextett's passionately persuasive performance of Rimsky-Korsakov's Sextet will prove a major find for any fan of Russian Silver Age chamber music who doesn't already know it. This warm and lovely digital recording from November 2001 is as clear as air.

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