On the evidence of this anthology of Russian string music and its previous collection, Italian Journey, the LGT Young Soloists is clearly one of the finest youth orchestras in Europe. The members play with equal amounts of finesse and enthusiasm – to say nothing of an admirable unanimity of purpose – heard to best effect in Anton Arensky’s soulful Variations on a Theme by Tchaikovsky. There’s nothing tentative or “immature” in the playing; in fact, the attacks, releases, and phrasing all have the easy confidence of players several times their age. If at times the performance sounds slightly over-rehearsed, then it still maintains a natural-sounding flow from beginning to end, easily joining the recordings by Valery Polyansky and the Russian State Symphony (Chandos 10086) and William Boughton with the English String Orchestra (Nimbus 7020) among the best versions currently available.
The shorter items are designed to show off some of the group’s principal players, and for the most part they show off plenty. A few little slips in intonation aside, this is a formidable collection of young musicians, from the 20-year-old violist Silas Zschocke, who offers a heart-tugging version of Tchaikovsky’s Andante cantabile, to the 18-year-old violinist Elena Kawazu and 19-year-old harpist Milo Harper, who work wonders with Efrem Zimbalist’s Golden Cockerel Fantasy after the opera by Rimsky-Korsakov.
Most impressive of all, perhaps, are the 23-year-old bass player Yamila Pedrosa Ahmet, who dispatches Serge Koussevitzky’s enchanting Valse Miniature with a confidence (and security) that Edgar Meyer might envy, and the 20-year-old violinist David Nebel, who takes us on a hair-raising romp through Tchaikovsky’s Valse-Scherzo. In fact, all the soloists – including the 12-year-old pianist Eva Medvedko – are nothing less than hugely impressive, while the string band accompanies all of them with unfailing musicality and grace. As calling cards go, this one is unusually revealing and appealing.