Beethoven: Symphony No 3 ‘Eroica’

Nizhny Novgorod Soloists Chamber Orchestra, Maxim Emelyanchev
Aparté AP191
+Brahms: Variations on a Theme by Haydn, op. 56a

The most frustrating thing about this beautiful CD is the lack of information about the performers. Typically, readers of these pages would probably not take any notice of it, given that one assumes the orchestra plays on modern instruments, and that they would not expect the Russian school would bring any worthwhile revelations to two such well-known pieces from the repertoire. Yet, from the opening bars, both the sound world and the energy of the performances held my attention and I have ended up listening to the disc several times which, when one has a room full of other things awaiting review, is no small achievement. So often with modern chamber orchestras, the bass parts lack “air”, the wind players find it awkward to fit in with string sections that have turned off their vibrato (because that’s what they think HIP playing means!), and there is just a lack of vitality that overpowers the good intention. The out-of-date website that I found for the group suggests the orchestra is made up of 16 elite students specialising in orchestral playing, the photo suggesting that the figure refers to string players only. This modest number would be about what Beethoven would have expected and allows Emelyanchev to treat the programme more as expanded chamber music, lending their sound a clarity to too often escapes non-HIPsters. I played the “Haydn Variations” with my university orchestra, but I can guarantee it never sounded anything like this! I hope this is not the last we hear of this combination.

Brian Clark