TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No 6. Romeo and Juliet
All the markers for success are there in the first few minutes of the symphony: the expectant silence surrounding the lachrymose bassoon solo; the elegant and articulate counterpoint of the first Allegro; the fluid, unfussy arrival of the great second subject, very much an inspiration of the moment. Bychkov’s Russian roots make him mindful of Tchaikovsky’s classicism, the emotion always ‘contained’ until it can be contained no more. The explosive development section is a controlled panic attack, classical in form, neurotic in nature. But it is only when it boils over into that mighty sostenuto passage for strings answered in breast-beating trombones that the music breaks free of classical constraint and gives way to full-blown despair. It’s one of the great soul-baring moments in 19th-century symphonic music and Bychkov and the Czech Philharmonic give it the fullest intensity. And yet – tellingly – the return of the second subject is fleet and songful rather than indulgently fulsome as is so often the case. Suddenly it is a beautiful aide-memoire salvaged from the despair.
Which makes more sense of the second movement – more memories arriving as in a reverie, slightly imperialistic and so redolent of the ballet. Again playing that is infused with an in-the-moment spontaneity: no flash, just honest, musical, shapely playing. As shapely as it is keen and rhythmic in the third-movement march (super-articulate woodwinds), which builds from sprightly and festive to menacing with great panache.
I always feel that the final Adagio lamentoso should follow pretty much attacca (though tricky, of course, if an audience intrudes with excitable applause), and the pause here is way too long to carry forwards the intensity of the march and exact a shocking contrast into the finale. Its heartache, though, is perhaps the more intense with Bychkov for not grinding to a halt à la Bernstein and one or two others one might mention.
A very fine performance, then, no question, and supplemented by a Romeo and Juliet of similar qualities – keen and articulate in strife, rich in romance. And it feels personal in a way that the warm, homespun playing of the Czech Philharmonic only accentuates. A disc that augurs well for what is headlined here as ‘The Tchaikovsky Project’.