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CD REVIEW

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Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No. 5 in e, Op. 64 (1888) [43.35]
Capriccio Italien, Op. 45 (1880) [13.09]
Concertgebouw Orchestra/Paul Van Kempen
rec. Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, the Netherlands, December 1951
Track list/timings, no notes.
Monophonic recording processed with the NoNoise system. ADD. CDR
PHILIPS LEGENDARY CLASSICS 420 858-2 [56:44]



Comparison recordings:
Symphony No. 5:
Pierre Monteux, LSO, [ADD] Silverline DVD-Audio Classics 288 228-9
Pierre Monteux, LSO, [ADD] Vanguard Classics 8031
Leopold Stokowski, New Philharmonia Orchestra Decca Weekend [ADD] Classics 433 687-2
Herbert von Karajan, BPO [ADD] EMI CDM 64871
Temirkanov, St. Petersburg PO [96 kHz/24 bit DDD] RCA BMG 82876 65831-2
 
Capriccio Italien:
Antal Dorati, MSO [ADD] Mercury Living Presence 434 360-2
Leonard Bernstein, NYPO [ADD] Sony “Royal Collection” No. 57
Arthur Fiedler, Boston Pops Crystal Clear LP CCS 7003
Arthur Fiedler, Boston Pops [ADD] Laserlight 15312
Hermann Scherchen, LSO [1953 mono AAD] Tahra TAH 415
Temirkanov, RPO [DDD] RCA BMG 82876 65831-2
 
Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony - actually his tenth - is the most difficult to conduct, or at least the most difficult of the last three Symphonies. The famous horn solo is obviously a reworked tenor or bass aria from opera sketches, and the seams show. The valse is ballet music. Taneyev was intense in his criticism of the work for this reason. Who knows how Tchaikovsky might have revised this work if he had lived beyond age 53? Van Kempen’s performance of the Fifth Symphony is a fine reading, in the top twenty, but these days you want one with modern sound. The three versions listed above are in everybody’s top six, Monteux for beauty, Stokowski for drama, Karajan for energy. Take your choice, or take all three as I have. But we are all individuals, and my favourite performance of all time is Odd Grüner Hegge conducting the Oslo PO on an old RCA Victrola LP. There will be many people who like this Kempen performance over all others, but they may not know anyone else who does.
 
This recording of Capriccio Italien is arguable the very best performance ever recorded. Considering how much Tchaikovsky is recorded, it is very unusual for a single recording to be better on every point than others; usually, there is a best slow performance, a best fast performance, a best orchestral balance performance, a best historical performance …. But apart from the mono sound, this recording takes the sweepstakes. I first heard it over local radio, long after it was deleted, and have searched in vain for a copy until now. Bless ArkivCD! They have performed for me the exact service for which they were organized.
 
Hermann Scherchen gives us more detailed, more realistic mono sound. This recording was a famous HI FI demonstration disk when first released. There’s also a great deal more Russian soul in the slow parts - taking nearly three minutes longer than van Kempen. When the music winds up for the finish it sounds more manic than joyous. Bernstein’s style here fits the music better than usual, and his performance with the NYPO is one of his best Romantic music recordings. Dorati is another good choice for a stereo version but both Bernstein and Dorati have a tendency to rush over subtleties in the race to the finish line, whereas Fiedler is willing and able to slow down briefly to allow a phrase to take a deep breath. All these versions enjoy excellent stereo sound although none of them is exactly new. The Fiedler CD was made from an original direct-to-disc recording instead of a tape; in fact the LP is still available from collectors’ sources. You’ll note that every version I have commented on so far is an analogue master.
 
Temirkanov offers an excellent 96/24 digital version - which may some day come out on a DVD-Audio - of this same program, with the same depth of Russian soul in the Capriccio Italien that Scherchen offers. His Fifth Symphony is a little on the eccentric side, not far from the Stokowski approach, but very satisfactory overall. However this digital recording will lack the IM distortion, midrange acoustic feedback resonance, transient clipping, attenuated dynamics, pitch instability — oh, excuse me! I mean, of course, “warmth and richness” — that analogue recordings provide.
 
Some critics complained about audible artefacts of digital noise reduction with the NoNoise system. However if there are any such artefacts here I didn’t notice them while enjoying the music and I have enough experience to know what to listen for. All I noticed was clear sound against a quiet background.
 
Paul Shoemaker
 


 


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