Tchaikovsky Symphonies

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Tchaikovsky Symphonies

  • Symphony No. 4
  • Symphony No. 5
  • Symphony No. 6, 'Pathétique'

There may be one or two regrets that DG have not chosen the earlier Mravinsky recordings for CD release, but these stereo ones are nevertheless classics of the gramophone, landmarks not just of Tchaikovsky interpretation, but of recorded orchestral performances in general.
The Leningrad Philharmonic play like a wild stallion, only just held in check by the willpower of its master. Every smallest movement is placed with fierce pride; at any moment it may break into such a frenzied gallop that you hardly know whether to feel exhilirated or terrified. The whipping up of excitement towards the fateful outbursts in Symphony No. 4 is astonishing—not just for the discipline of the stringendos themselves, but for the pull of psychological forces within them. Symphony No. 5 is also mercilessly driven and pre-echoes of Shostakovichian hysteria are particularly strong in the coda's knife-edge of triumph and despair. No less powerfully evoked is the stricken tragedy of the Pathetique.
Are the gentler aspects of the music overshadowed by such unremitting intensity? Perhaps. But it was after all the composer himself who wrote, a propos No. 4, that ''One's whole life is just a perpetual traffic between the grimness of reality and one's fleeting dreams of happiness''. with one or two exceptions all Mravinsky's interpretative decisions are rigorously based on the score—they sound startling because of the sharpness of profile he gives them, and because of the extraordinary unanimity of the orchestral playing. Rarely, if ever, can the prodigious rhythmical inventiveness of these scores have been so brilliantly demonstrated. The fanatical discipline is not something one would want to see casually emulated—few orchestras would stand for it in any case—but it is applied in a way which sees far into the soul of the music and never violates its spirit.
Strictly speaking there is no real comparison with the Chandos issues, despite the fact that Jansons has for long been Mravinsky's assistant in Leningrad. His approach is warmer, less detailed, more classical, and in its way very satisfying, although his fondness for softening dynamics prior to a crescendo is close to a mannerism. The Oslo woodwind are clearly more refined—the fruity Leningrad horn solos are legendary, and their tremulous oboe sounds as though under threat of an extended Siberian holiday for any cracked notes. But the strings are no match for the cold steel of Leningraders, and there would be no question, one feels, of a nasty slip like the tuba's misreading in the first movement development of No. 5 being passed by Mravinsky. Not surprisingly there are deeper perspectives in the Chandos recording, but DG's refurbishing has been most successful, enhancing the immediacy of sound so appropriate to the lacerating intensity of the interpretations.'

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