> Tchaikovsy 2 Prokofiev 1 Masur [WH]: Classical CD Reviews- Aug 2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Pyotr Ilych TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No. 2 in C minor, Op. 17 "Little Russian" (1872, revised 1880)
Serge PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

Classical Symphony, Op. 25 (1917)
Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra/Kurt Masur
Date and location of recording not specified, first issued 1970.
EDEL CLASSICS 0002472CCC [44.07]

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This is a curious coupling of two works with no apparent link apart from the obvious one that both composers were Russian.

"Little Russia" was the Ukraine, and Tchaikovskyís Second Symphony received its nickname because of the composerís copious use of regional folk music in the work. The opening horn melody is a variant of such a folk song, and there are many examples throughout the piece. At a little over half an hour it is one of Tchaikovskyís shorter symphonies, and certainly one of the most light-hearted. The slow movement is a reworking of material from an earlier composition, and the scherzo and finale are both high spirited and brilliantly written. Whether or not the folksong elements are successfully integrated into a convincing symphonic structure is open to discussion. What is certain is that although there is a fair bit of brooding in the first movement the work as a whole has little of the weight and gravity we often associate with this composer.

From the moment the principal horn begins to play the opening solo we are in no doubt as to which part of the world the orchestra comes from, and all of the brass, the trombones in particular, have this characteristic Eastern European sound. The strings have a richness of tone which would not be out of place coming from the other Dresden orchestra, and the orchestral playing as a whole is of a high standard. Kurt Masur conducts a straightforward reading of a relatively straightforward piece, but one element in particular, and a crucial one at that, is lacking. There is weight, there is power, there is even excitement where itís called for, but thereís very little in the way of a smile in this music-making, which is a pity in this of all Tchaikovsky symphonies. Things improve as the work progresses, and the finale is perhaps the most successful in this respect, but itís not difficult to find any number of readings which seem to be closer to the mark. Abbado with the New Philharmonia Orchestra (DG) is particularly convincing in a similarly priced reissue, but there are many others, most intriguingly a recording of the unrevised version Ė with an almost completely different first movement amongst other differences Ė conducted by Geoffrey Simon on Chandos.

Exactly the same comments are applicable to the Prokofiev, but here the work is even more seriously weakened. Masurís view of this absolute jewel of a piece is strong on drama but crucially lacking in charm and grace. The first movement in particular suffers from this: the music sounds almost angry in a way Iíve never heard in this piece before. The reading is very classical, to be sure; thus the main theme of the slow movement played by high violins arrives with a relatively definite attack rather than appearing from nowhere as in many other performances, but I find this neither attractive nor convincing. The gavotte is more expressive, but the helter-skelter finale is again rather hard driven, and the rapid passages are not as technically secure as they might be. The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (DG) are excellent, but my favourite performance is conducted by Previn with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra on a hard to find Philips disc.

Masur is a magnificent conductor who doesnít seem at home in this repertoire. Given that such an important element of each of these pieces is missing I couldnít recommend this disc even to someone who happened to be looking for this particular coupling though the blow is softened only slightly by Edelís price.

William Hedley


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