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Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64 (1888).
Wiener Philharmoniker/Valery Gergiev
Live recording (ORF), Grosses Festspielhaus, Salzburg, Austria, July 1998. DDD
PHILIPS 475 6718 [46'04]

Gergiev live with the VPO is a mouth-watering thought. The short playing time of this disc is vindicated by the actual quality of the interpretation and its realisation.

This is magnificent Tchaikovsky. Gergiev gives us a reading that starts in the depths - pre-echoes of the 'Pathétique' are obvious - with an ominous, mournful clarinet underpinned by expressive strings. The darkness of the string tone is confirmed by the support of the excellent, clear but never bright recording. The allegro con anima, when it comes, is busy and, most importantly, nervous. Gergiev shapes the climax with the practised hand of a master, the fortissimi white-hot, impulsive yet with superbly balanced textures. No surprise that Gergiev is able to impart just the right amount of give-and-take in the name of expression without ever losing the underlying pulse.

The second movement begins less with string chords, more with an extended inhalation-exhalation that runs out of breath only when the superb solo horn enters - who is it, I wonder? The horn floats magnificently over this string bed, shading the line perfectly. This movement as a whole is a heart-felt outpouring so that the climax is shattering; Gergiev not allowing a let-up for a second. The ensuing come-down is beautiful, but, importantly, with a tinge of desolation.

Perhaps that desolation is to put into clear focus the fun and frolics of the third movement Valse. All have fun here, particularly the woodwind; and the scampering strings could surely only be those of the Wiener Philharmoniker with this level of accuracy?

The gritty opening of the finale has real breadth, implying a barely held-in-check power that does, indeed, erupt in the furious energy of the main body of the movement. There is an inevitability about the glowing, brass-drenched end, an inevitability that Gergiev surely held in his sights from the very first note of the symphony.

A magnificent disc. Gergiev is not always like this, but when he is there are few today that can touch him.

Colin Clarke

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