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Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Symphony No. 2 in C minor, Op. 17, ‘Little Russian’ (1872) [35’08]. Sleeping Beauty (1889) – Suite, Op. 66a (arr Fedoseyev) [36’43].
Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Radio/Vladimir Fedoseyev.
Rec. 1999, venue unspecified. DDD
RELIEF CR991055 [72’01]


Relief’s ‘Silver Edition’ of Fedoseyev’s recordings with the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Radio is rarely less than interesting, and sometimes much, much more. Here is a striking coupling, and one which has a musical point to make, too – the balletic elements of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Little Russian’ are highlighted interpretatively in a way that makes the Sleeping Beauty Suite run on entirely naturally.

Talking of little Russians, Olga Dobrokhotova’s booklet notes refer to Tchaikovsky’s Second as the ‘Ukrainian’ or the ‘Minor-Russian’. Let’s stick with the accepted ‘Little Russian’, shall we?. Booklet presentation has been a continual sticking point in appraising these issues – so often notes, translation and proof-reading standards seem so much at odds with what is aurally on offer.

On to the music … Fedoseyev’s Tchaikovsky Second is a variable affair which nevertheless deserves frequent re-hearings on account not only of the authentically-Russian sound of the orchestra but also for the conductor’s acute ear for balance and orchestral detail. Even more would have been revealed if the recording were not quite so reverberant, though (the initial orchestral chord that heralds the solo horn’s lonely-lament – lovely, tasteful vibrato here – seems to linger preternaturally). The balancing of forces in the introduction is remarkable. Fedoseyev’s natural understanding of Tchaikovskian scoring is highly impressive, and symptomatic of his reading as a whole. The Allegro vivo is grittily determined, string ensemble being particularly worthy of note. Fedoseyev’s grasp of the work’s structure is neatly exemplified by the natural way the Allegro vivo emerges from the extended Andante sostenuto.

If the Andantino marciale, quasi vivo is less of a march than in Abbado’s hands (with the New Philharmonia in a highly recommendable account on DG 429 527-2 at medium price, coupled with the same conductor’s Vienna Fourth), Fedoseyev maintains a good sense of flow and secures some marvellously suave string playing (especially around the 4’50 mark). The references to the world of ballet noted above can clearly be heard in this movement, as they can in the more delicate parts of the ensuing Scherzo. A pity in the latter’s case that there is some definition lost in the recording quality (again that reverb).

The finale exudes an aura of ‘rightness’ – an authentic feeling runs through it. However, a clumsy edit at 6’55 detracts, and Fedoseyev fails to reach the heights of excitement this music can bring in its wake, so that the close does not quite take off (it sounds under-tempo, almost more of a rehearsal speed).

The Sleeping Beauty Suite is Fedoseyev’s own, and Relief claim this as a first recording. Fedoseyev considers Sleeping Beauty to be the finest of Tchaikovsky’s ballets, apparently, and this performance is dripping with charm and affection. True, some adjustment needs to be made (perhaps better not to listen to the disc absolutely straight through, else the first movement ‘Marche’ sounds almost naïvely pretty after the Second Symphony’s finale). But criticism is effectively silenced by the suave, beautiful in the extreme string playing of the ‘Scene dansante’, and from now on almost all is of the same high standard.

Interesting that Relief should name certain soloists (harp, horn x2, cello, flute, oboe and piano), yet omit the clarinetist, who is so excellent in the ‘Pas de six’. Cellist Victor Simon is marvellously, singingly, expressive in the ‘Pas d’action’; flautist Maria Fedotova is similarly impressive in the ‘Bluebird’ movement. An impassioned ‘Adagio d’Aurore et Desire’ rounds off a marvellous half hour’s worth of Tchaikovskian balleterie. If there is any fault here, maybe it comes in the shape of the ‘Tempo di Mazurka’, which loses some of its festive feeling. Yet even memories of this are erased by a courtly, stately ‘Sarabande’ and a glistening ‘Silver Fairy’.

Well worth investigating, if not a first choice recommendation in the symphony.

Colin Clarke


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