Tchaikovsky composed and scored in June and July 1890 his string sextet in D minor, Souvenir de Florence, Op. 70 at Frolovskoye and revised it at Maydanovo between November 1891 and January 1892. It's scored for 2 violins, 2 violas and 2 cellos, and has four movements, lasting somewhere in and around 35 minutes in performance:
- Allegro con spirito (D minor)
- Adagio cantabile e con moto (D major)
- Allegro moderato (A minor)
- Allegro vivace (D minor)
Its name was given to it by Tchaikovsky following his return in 1890 from a stay in Florence, he seems to have had quite a lot of difficulty with it describing the task in a letter to Modest Tchaikovsky as 'unimaginably difficult', happily for us he persevered. The name it has to be said is a bit misleading, it's a very Russian piece and whenever I hear it – particularly the last two movements which are so Russian in their character as to be downright stereotypical I find myself thinking that while he may have enjoyed himself thoroughly in Florence he didn't bother to bring back any souvenirs.
It's given me so much pleasure over the years that I really wish it were better known, it's a gracious piece of music that starts with a vigorous main theme which contrasts beautifully well with the subsequenty light and airy lyricism. The second movement opens with a slow version of the first movemen't main theme which progresses to a delightful melody supported by a pizzicato accompaniment. Tchaikovsky then springs a musical surprise by abandoning melodicism and chamber music's formality to produce some music that's pure sound-effect, it's wonderful when it's done properly which is by no means as easy as it sounds because it has to be played with the strings playing rapidly on the point of the bow. The third movement – the only movement in A minor is a happy carefree piece with a trio section that never fails to remind me that this is the man who gave us The Nutcracker. The concluding Allegro vivace makes use of what sounds to me like a folk tune the tune itself isn't much it's a pleasing musical trifle but oh my what Tchaikovsky does with it! He puts it through its paces including a somewhat surprising fugato before bringing down the curtain with a brilliant close. It is as I say a piece that's given me a great deal of pleasure over the years and I have to say that the performance below which was broadcast on June 27th 2014 by the Dutch Public Broadcasting Organization AVRO as part of their live concerts series is one of the best performances of it I've ever heard. Enjoy :-).
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