Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5
With speeds fast but never breathless and with the most vivid recording yet given to this favourite symphony, this is as exciting an account as we have had since Ashkenazy's warm and sympathetic reading on Decca with the Philharmonia. Mariss Jansons and the Oslo Philharmonic won glowing notices after their recent concert at the Royal Festival Hall in London, and now I can understand why. In no way does this performance suggest anything but a metropolitan orchestra—the playing is actually cleaner of ensemble than that of Ashkenazy's Philharmonia or Chailly's VPO (also Decca)—and Jansons keeps reminding one of his background in Leningrad in the great years of Mravinsky and the Philharmonic.
As well as Chief Conductor of the Oslo orchestra Jansons is also the current conductor of the Leningrad Philharmonic, and nowhere does the link with Mravinsky emerge more clearly than in the finale, where he adopts a tempo very nearly as hectic as Mravinsky's on his two classic recordings for DG (2700 114, 1/79 and SLPM138658, 10/61—both nla). (I now understand the latter version has just been reissued, together with Symphonies Nos. 4 and 6, as part of a two-LP set on DG 413 541-1GXZ—to be reviewed later.) In his 1961 stereo account, unlike the earlier mono, Mravinsky made the result too breathless, where here Jansons screws up the excitement without ever making it a scramble. In the first movement he resists any temptation to linger, prefering to press the music on, and as with Ashkenazy the result sounds totally idiomatic. It has less charm, but remains a spontaneous-sounding performance. In the slow movement Jansons again prefers a steady tempo, but treats the second theme with delicate rubato and builds the climaxes steadily, not rushing his fences, building the final one even bigger than the first. Unlike Ashkenazy he does not allow himself an agogic hesitation for emphasis at the very peak, but his straightness makes for comparable power. He is not so light as Ashkenazy in the waltz but similar in his freshness, while in the finale—where it is striking that he follows Tchaikovsky's notated slowings rather than allowing extra rallentandos—the bravura of the performance finds its natural culmination.
The Oslo string ensemble is fresh and bright and superbly disciplined, while the wind soloists are generally excellent with an attractively furry-toned but not at all wobbly or whiny horn solo in the slow movement. The Chandos sound lives up to the extremely high reputation of that company, very specific and well-focused despite a warm reverberation, real-sounding and three-dimensional with more clarity in tuttis than the rivals provide. This first issue in a projected Tchaikovsky series from Jansons and the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra could hardly be more promising. All round there is no current rival quite to match this: a warm recommendation unless charm or wayward sensuousness are essential to you. The CD version is outstanding too.'