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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY
Written and narrated by: Jeremy Siepmann
Tchaikovsky: Malcolm Sinclair
Also featuring: Karen Archer, Teresa Gallagher, Stephen Thorne and David Timson
Conductor: Assorted
Ensembles: Assorted
NAXOS 8.558036-39-04 [4:09:54]


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This 4 CD, 4 hour playing time set is a narrated biography of the composer, interspersed with musical excerpts.

Actors and the narrator present episodes large and small throughout the composers’ life: the Narrator sets up the scene, and the actors quote from letters and other communications of the time to bring "life" to the characters.

I’ll take my characters dead, please. The writer has created an exaggerated bio of Tchaikovsky, with many allusions to life-long depression due to "unrequited mother-love", sexual misconduct and various other nonsensical dramatic incidents. Whether true or not, they add little and seem to only be there to try and spice up classical music. It is as if the writer decided that all the classical music stereotypes were true and that it was his job to break them down.

It is truly painful to listen to these actors, all of whom portray the episodes and characters in the exaggerated highbrow spoken English associated with bad Shakespearean productions – all of it over-enunciated and without any vestige of characterisation.

Where this set excels is in the musical excerpts – they are often presented full-length (i.e., an entire movement instead of a snippet) and the performances are well-recorded with good ensembles. Some of the included ensembles are the Vienna Chamber Orchestra with Philippe Entremont, the Ashkenazy Trio, and the Slovak Radio Orchestra, under many conductors.

The other area in which it excels is the booklet – the musicological research done is extensive. It first gives a brief overview of Western and Russian historical background, a detailed essay on the major works and their influence on other composers, a recommended reading list and a short biographical sketch of many of the personalities alive in Tchaikovsky’s lifetime.

If this were not enough, it then gives a year by year breakdown of Tchiakovsky’s life, with a selection of arts, cultural, political and historical events that happened in the same year. The last two sections of the booklet are a small dictionary of musical terms and a detailed discography.

This CD would serve well as a classroom aid for any teacher of music history, if they excerpted out the musical selections only, and used the booklet as a teaching aid. The seasoned listener would get very little out of this selection, and would be recommended to move to something other recording in the Tchaikovsky canon.

Kelly A Rinne


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