TCHAIKOVSKY Symphonies Nos 1 - 3
Like Herbert von Karajan, Valery Gergiev has recorded Tchaikovsky’s last three symphonies on so many occasions that it must be difficult for his admirers to keep track. In so far as I am aware, this is his first crack at Nos 1-3 and the results, without displaying the maestro at his most charismatic (such music doesn’t really lend itself to insistent, white-hot intensity), are highly enjoyable.
Best of all is the Third, although on closer inspection of the booklet I began to wonder how far my reactions were being conditioned by its superior sound. Gergiev directed fine performances at London’s Barbican Centre in May 2011 but this live account was captured in Zurich’s Tonhalle a few days later and the change of venue seems to have had a liberating effect. Not forgetting the claims of Svetlanov, Bernstein et al, this is an ardent reading
which belongs at or near the top of the list. The in-your-face, relatively cramped acoustic of the orchestra’s regular London home makes its presence felt in the earlier scores, neatly accommodated on a single disc. Gergiev does not dawdle in the first movement of Winter Daydreams in the manner of Mikhail Pletnev (Pentatone, 6/12) but neither does he offer the nth degree of refinement, notwithstanding a notably poised and atmospheric treatment of the introduction to the finale. Is Gergiev’s buoyant Little Russian less carefully plotted than that of Kirill Karabits and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra working in the studio (Onyx, 3/12) or is it just that its effect is aurally blunted? Those recent rivals come at premium price so more relevant comparisons might be made with Karajan’s similarly programmed twofer or with Igor Markevitch’s complete symphony cycle as set down by an earlier generation of LSO players. It is LSO Live’s policy to exclude applause. However, given the infectious quality of the music-making, you may feel inclined to append your own. As someone once said, ‘play loud or not at all’ and Barbican recordings do sound better that way, even if the band’s considerable tonal splendour is compromised.