TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No 6, Pathétique (Bernard)
In contrast to the rather rough-and-tumble Beethoven Ninth Symphony recorded by David Bernard and the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony that I reviewed in these pages (10/17), the same forces deliver, for the most part, an impressively elegant, thoughtful, well balanced and sophisticated Tchaikovsky Pathétique.
My main reservation (indeed, my only reservation) concerns the reduced string section, which cannot match their full-size orchestra counterparts in regard to projection, tonal allure, soaring sweep and assured agility. Still, the Park Avenue players compensate through carefully sculpted phrasing in the finale’s thematic statements, their pointed articulation throughout the second movement and the X ray clarity of the low strings underneath the bassoon solo in the first movement’s opening Adagio. The orchestra approaches the first theme’s faster variant tentatively at first but gain suppleness as the music progresses. A crackling outburst launches a development section that makes up in contrapuntal clarity what it lacks in dynamic force.
The second movement’s outer sections take Tchaikovsky’s con grazia directive to heart, with the melodies taking playful shape as they move over the bar lines. The same holds true for the middle section as well, where the normally dark and heavy timpani pedal point is pared down to a suggestive murmur. The finale’s songful fluency and unanimity of phrasing communicate a dignified reserve that contrasts to the epic vistas, wide emotional swings and devastating peroration that full-orchestra versions convey.
It is in the third movement, however, where the chamber orchestra’s downsized virtues shine. Bernard’s excellent textural contouring gives bristling focus to the compound 12/8 and 4/4 metre, and the march theme’s wonderful trombone and tuba parts emerge like newly scrubbed details in a restored painting.
One may miss the sonorous heft and large-scale dimensions of classic full-orchestra Pathétiques from Karajan (EMI 1971 version), Mravinsky (DG) and Solti (Decca), yet Bernard and his musicians frequently shed new and valuable light on a thrice-familiar standard, abetted by a recorded ambience that evokes concert-hall realism.