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 Recording of the Week  Tchaikovsky's Moscow Cantata

With a few notable exceptions, a composer’s finest works tend to also be the most well known. In the case of Tchaikovsky that is probably the three ballet scores, the late symphonies, a couple of overtures, the violin and piano concertos and possibly Eugene Onegin. However, this week I’ve been knocked sideways by a work of his which I’d barely even heard of - his Moscow Cantata.


Tchaikovsky was one of the first Russian composers to make a proper living out of composing, receiving throughout his life a number of specific commissions. Like the 1812 Overture written the previous year, the Moscow Cantata is one such commission, written in 1883 in honour of the coronation festivities in Moscow of Tsar Alexander III. In six movements it tells the story of Moscow from a small riverside fortress to a future hope that Moscow (and Russia) will ultimately become the leader of all Orthodox lands.

It is scored for mezzo-soprano, baritone, chorus and orchestra, and is only about 25 minutes long. But it has some really fantastic music in it, some of the freshest and most attractive music he ever wrote, and one part of which the composer later incorporated into the opera Queen of Spades. The arias (particularly the second mezzo-soprano aria) are extremely moving, while the choruses are punchy, exciting and typically Russian sounding. Throughout the orchestral scoring is imaginative and full of character.

The recording I’ve been enjoying this week is part of an all-Tchaikovsky disc released next Monday with Valery Gergiev and his Mariinsky Orchestra on the orchestra’s own label. Coupled with other patriotic Tchaikovsky works including the famous 1812 Overture, it is an all round excellent disc, stunningly played and superbly captured. To give you a taste of this superb work, I’ve put links (below) to two samples for you to listen to: the short central chorus, and the opening of the last movement. Enjoy!

Tchaikovsky - 1812 Overture, Moscow Cantata, etc.

Mariinsky Orchestra, Valery Gergiev

Available Formats: SACD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC