For most of us in the West the sustaining legacy of Evgeni
Svetlanov (1928-2002) lies in his numerous recordings. This
conductor’s Soviet recordings were made by Melodiya and have
been licensed by various companies including BMG, CDK, various
Russian satellites, and now Regis and Warner.
In the 1980s he began appearing in the seasons of various
European orchestra. Recordings followed including ones for
Phono-Suecia and Harmonia Mundi.
The present analogue tapes derive from Moscow sessions some
four decades ago with the conductor’s own USSR SSO. His Tchaikovsky Symphony
No. 2 is possessed and driven. He does not treat it
as a cadet work instead infusing it with just sufficient
of that edgy quasi-hysteria normally allotted to Manfred and
the last three numbered symphonies.
The brass has plenty of character and can blare (9:10 in
I) and warble (10:15 in I). No complaints there. The final
confiding bassoon meditation that rounds off the first movement
is played as if it could easily launch off into the Pathétique.
There is a gratifying Bizet-like cheekiness in the metronomic
tic-toc drum beat and a stalwart steadiness in the lower
woodwind. This is a great orchestra caught in its deeply
impressive and tightly disciplined prime. In the finale Svetlanov
and Tchaikovsky treat us to thunderous echoes of 1812 and
Borodin’s Second Symphony but also finds time for scudding
string writing. This is indeed one of the most Russian nationalist
of the Tchaikovsky symphonies.
The same symphony from Temirkanov and the RPO in 1990 is
in their RCA-BMG Complete Collection box (see review).
He turns in a strongly characterised performance but it is
not in quite the same league for grip and response
as Philips’ red-blooded 1966 version from the LSO and Igor
Markevich. I heard the latter from the 1997 bargain box 456
187-2. Both Temirkanov and Markevitch enjoy a less lapel-grabbing
recording perspective than Svetlanov. Bernstein’s bargain
Sony box of the complete symphonies includes a strong Second
Symphony from October 1967 but it is the least well recorded.
As for Svetlanov’s Serenade, this is
ripe and resonant in performance and in recording. You can
almost feel the pizzicato such is the impact – try
5:12 in the finale. Svetlanov’s control and the way in which
he distributes weight and tone between the parts is a sheer
joy to hear. His tight control over the rhythmic line, his
concern for sharp definition and dynamic throw into dramatic
relief those great waves of melody that sing out over the
backdrop. The introduction to the finale manages to be hesitant,
confiding and tense all at once. The unanimity of attack
is breathtaking and very satisfying. The recording is no
spring chicken but it is richly vibrant yet not as plush
as the Sony-CBS-Ormandy (see
review). Listen to that balalaika shiver at 7:04.
Are there any currently available single disc versions of
Symphony No. 2? I cannot recall any. Certainly none at bargain
price. Regis march with forthright confidence into the market
and fill a gap. Tchaikovsky fans who know the great works
will be reassured by the Serenade and will be richly rewarded
by taking bargain price gamble on the Second Symphony. Who
knows, perhaps Svetlanov’s Winter Daydreams and Francesca
da Rimini next?
A prime disc especially at bargain price. If you doubt me
try sampling from 3:03 onwards in the scherzo of the symphony – the
sparkling flight of flute and staccato.
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