For many years, the string section of the orchestra has been a favorite vehicle for master composers to display their artistry. Serenades, Elegies, Fantasias, Adagios and many more works have been written by composers such as Tchaikovsky, Elgar, Dvorak, Vaughan Williams, and Bach, and can be heard on numerous recordings in their entirety. But in addition to the vast repertoire of works originally written for full orchestral strings, there exist numerous arrangements and transcriptions of intimate chamber and vocal works, created by celebrated composers and conductors such as Toscanini, Stokowski, Mahler, Bernstein, and many others. Hearing these pieces, normally performed by only a small group of players, now played by a forty-to-fifty member string orchestra gives the listener a completely new perspective on their musical character.
This unusual new recording showcases the string section of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra playing a compelling program that juxtaposes movements from works originally written for full string orchestra with lush, beautiful arrangements of chamber pieces that are rarely, if ever, heard performed in this fashion. The ten highly varied selections were written by composers of the 17th to the 20th centuries.
The two earliest composers represented are Henry Purcell and Tomaso Albinoni, with arrangements of Dido's "Lament" from Dido and Aeneas and the Adagio for Strings, respectively. Dido's famous aria, sung near the close of the opera, is touchingly rendered on this recording by cellist Christine Jackson, in an arrangement by the great Leopold Stokowski. Remo Giazotto created the arrangement of Albinoni's haunting Adagio for Strings performed on this recording.
The disc opens with a lush rendition of Mendelssohn's beautiful Allegro moderato from the Octet in E-flat major, Opus 20, written when the composer was only sixteen years of age. It is followed by one of the most beloved works ever to be written for strings, the lyrical Fantasia on Greensleeves by Ralph Vaughan Williams, here given an energetic reading by the "Royal" strings.
Movements from two composers' well-known Serenades for strings are represented on this collection: the Moderato from Serenade in E major, Opus 22, by Dvorak; and the Waltz from Serenade in C major, Opus 48, by Tchaikovsky. A vocal Serenade, the lovely Standchen by Franz Schubert, is performed here in an arrangement by Buxton Orr. For this piece, often sung by a high voice, the vocal line was taken down to the "baritone" range, to give the feeling of a man serenading a woman, with the solo again performed by cellist Christine Jackson.
Perhaps the most adventuresome track on the disc is Conductor Charles Rosekrans' beautiful arrangement of the Un poco Allegretto from Brahms's Quintet in G major, Opus 111. Normally played by a string quartet in a feeling of "one" to the bar, the piece is here performed in a true three beats per measure—resulting in a considerably slower tempo than is heard in a chamber concert, and giving the work a very autumnal character.
The final two tracks on the recording are also very unusual—full string arrangements of movements from the late string quartets by Beethoven. Extra basses were added to the string ensemble to emphasize the bass lines in the texture. The Presto from the Quartet in C-sharp minor, Opus 131, as with the movement from the Brahms Quintet, is taken at a slower tempo than would normally be heard in a chamber music setting, to accommodate the larger number of players. The recording closes, fittingly, with a movement from Beethoven's last complete work, the Lento assai from Quartet in F major, Opus 135. The strings give a lyrical performance of the lovely, hymnlike movement with its ethereal theme.
Born in San Francisco, conductor Charles Rosekrans was associated for seventeen years with the Houston Grand Opera; first as assistant to the noted conductor Walter Herbert, and later as Music Director, a position he held for five years. During that time he led the U.S. professional premiere of Vaughan Williams's Hugh the Drover. In his current position as Music Director of the Westchester Hudson Opera, Maestro Rosekrans has established a reputation for vivid renditions of both traditional and modern operatic works. He is also featured on Telarc's acclaimed debut solo recording by mezzo soprano Dolora Zajick (The Art of the Dramatic Mezzo Soprano, CD-80557).