TCHAIKOVSKY Symphonies Nos 4 & 5
The moment immediately following the arresting horn and trumpet fanfares at the start of the Fourth Symphony reveals a big and consoling string chord – a complete change of mood and ambience. I don’t think I have ever heard it sound so telling, so personal, so heart-easing, as it does in this live Vladimir Jurowski performance from the Royal Festival Hall in London. Indeed, both these performances exemplify what makes Jurowski’s approach to Tchaikovsky so special.
The tension between the classical and the romantic is at the heart of things – and so the restless first subject of the first movement of the Fourth combines a formal elegance with personal disquiet. The second group then achieves a ghostly remove with its hypnotic tailpiece only partly bringing us back to reality with the first subject echoing in the woodwinds. The development of this first movement is very ‘live’, furiously impulsive, with that first subject exacting a terrible insistence until the electrifying moment in the coda – thrillingly brought off by Jurowski – where it spills over into a hair-raising tremolando in the violins.
On balance I would say that the Fourth is the more immediate and exciting of the two performances, with a simple but gravely beautiful account of the second-movement Canzona giving it a real centre. Again, that personal disquiet is tellingly offset by the imposing and very ‘public’ dignity at the climax. More songfulness but folksier in the finale, of course, which is indeed con fuoco. Sparks fly.
The Fifth Symphony is marked by an unerring sense of pace, of just the ‘right’ tempo. In marked contrast to the Mravinsky school of Tchaikovsky interpretation, rubato is only applied where the music asks for it and where it is integral to the phrasing. In a tightly controlled first movement there is fierce intensity in those brassy tattoos.
Jurowski’s account of the slow movement is marvellous, the depth of the string chording at the outset immediately suggesting the darkness within but then beautifully lightened by the arrival of serenity with the solo horn. The playing throughout this movement (and indeed throughout both these performances) is marked by a oneness with Jurowski’s vision and, it goes without saying, a now well-established empathy between the players of the London Philharmonic and their principal conductor. The climactic return of the big sweeping second theme has a glorious ‘in the moment’ abandon and suddenly you are in that live performance. It’s the same with the dramatic sprint into the Allegro vivace of the finale, violins really bearing down with the heels of their bows. The resounding cheers at the close of the Fifth but not the Fourth suggest a retake or ‘patch’ of the coda of the latter. If so, it doesn’t show, though the close of the Fifth (with Jurowski pointedly not paying too much heed to the meno mosso marking in the horns and then trumpets) carries a very tangible sense of rising to the occasion.