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RECORDING OF THE MONTH

AVAILABILITY

Silverline Classics

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840 - 1893)
Romeo and Juliet, Overture-Fantasia in b (1870) [28.38]
Concerto for Piano & Orchestra #1 in bb, Op 23 (1875) [34.07]
John Ogdon, piano
Symphony #5 in e, Op 64 (1888) [45.24]
London Symphony Orchestra/Pierre Monteux
Recorded live at the Grosser Konzerthaussall, Vienna, Austria, 31 May 1963
Notes in English: track list, artist and technical credits.
On disk extras: composer biography, technical documentary ADD
DVD-Audio playable on all DVD players.

SILVERLINE CLASSICS 288 228-9 [108.09]



Comparison Recordings of music by Tchaikovsky:

Romeo & Juliet, Hermann Scherchen, LSO. [AAD mono] TAHRA TAH 415
Piano Concerto #1, Janis, Menges, LSO [ADD] Mercury Living Presence
Piano Concerto #1, Scherbakov, Yablonsky, Naxos DVD-Audio 5.110051
Symphony #5, Stokowski, New Philharmonia Orchestra [ADD] Decca 433 687-2
Symphony #5, Herbert von Karajan, BPO, EMI CDM 64871

Of the eight symphonies by Tchaikovsky, #1 is considered a student work because, even though its ideas are wonderfully original, it tends to make use of textbook models; #2 is considered "immature" for reasons I canít fathom, since to me it seems to be in every way a perfect work, even in its original, unrevised form; #3 is considered to be "experimental," I guess because it tries to go off in all directions at once and doesnít actually arrive anywhere ó I bet you canít hum a single tune from it. When we arrive at #4 we have the "first mature" Symphony.

Number five, Tchaikovskyís "second mature" symphony is the most difficult of the set to bring off because of the evanescent shifting colours which require the performers to follow convincingly abrupt changes in mood while keeping reasonable forward motionórather similar in manner to the Franck Symphony. Those conductors, such as Monteux and Stokowski, who are able nevertheless to retain focus on the long melodic phrases are the most successful, and the Fifth does have some of the longest melodic phrases in all Tchaikovsky. But there is a particularly difficult moment in the march-like transition to the coda in the last movement which is my touchstone for a great performance. Only Stokowski, von Karajan, and Odd Grüner-Hegge(!) have been able to bring it off as well as Monteux does here. This is a splendid performance! The music is focused in the front channels, the surround sound effects being quite subtle, amounting only to an opening-up, a sense of air, until the work ends and the applause bursts from all around you, proving that this is a real 4+ channel master recording.

Karajanís performance, brilliant, cool, transparent, a little brisk but more than acceptable, was once available on a quadraphonic LP; hopefully we will see it on a high-resolution surround-sound disk soon from EMI. I will need that one in addition to the present, disk of course.

Monteux and John Ogdon give us one of the most genuinely sensual, un-maudlin, yet musical and enjoyable performances of the First Concerto Iíve ever heard. Ogdon barely gets through the incredible first movement octave cadenza by holding the pedal down and praying. Listen once to Byron Janis zip through it, he who has it for lunch every day, so you know what it sounds like, then donít worry about John Ogdon who does such a beautiful job with the rest of the Concerto, even (almost) the third movement octave cadenza. In the midst of beauty like this who cares about a bunch of dumb old octaves anyway. For incredible bravura in both sound and performance, the Naxos DVD-Audio with Scherbakov and Yablonsky can hardly be equalled, but where is the soul? Although fewer and fewer people seem to agree, there is more to life than just violence.

The Romeo and Juliet is the equal of my all-time favourite performance, Hermann Scherchenís 1953 version with the LSO, making a point that the LSO is (or at least was between 1953 and 1963) surely the finest Tchaikovsky orchestra in the world! Fine as the monophonic sound of that earlier performance was, in this high resolution surround sound master we hear smoother strings and cleaner percussion, if a little less impact. The engineers have had the courage to leave the sound relatively un-processed (the bane of live recordings ó there is some limiting of the climaxes, but it is not overly obtrusive) so there is none of the artificial brightening that has marred a few of the Silverline releases. And remember, you can play it on your DVD player. Everybody has one by now, donít they?

Paul Shoemaker


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