Peter TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 - 1893)
Suite. The Nutcracker. Op 71a* [23.07]
Symphony No 5 in E Minor. Op 64 [52.40]
Fantasy Overture Romeo and Juliet. [22.39]
Symphony No 6 in B Minor "Pathétique" [58.15]
New York Philharmonic Orchestra
Recorded 1979*. 1990 ( Romeo & Juliet, Symphony No 5), 1987 (Symphony
Recording venues and exact dates not listed. ADD*. DDD
DG PANORAMA 469 214-2
Deutsche Grammophon has called the latest use of their back catalogue Panorama.
A catchy, easy to remember title for issues of double CDs that obviously
we are going to see and hear a lot of. There are twenty-five releases in
each of two batches. Batch one is composer based and draws on all the big
names in the DG catalogue. The list is mouth watering and all to retail at
a very attractive price of about £8.00 for the double pack.
Back in 1989 Leonard Bernstein conducted a famous Christmas performance of
the Choral Symphony in Berlin just after the Wall came tumbling down. It
was shown live on television and I remember being moved by the enormity of
the occasion and by the music. The Adagio I recall was very slow but riveting.
Despite its slowness it had that essential underlying pulse without which
it would be nothing. This event of years ago came into my mind as I listened
to the Tchaikovsky Symphonies on this CD both of which are dominated by the
matter of tempo. They are both slow -exceptionally so.
Let me give examples using the excellent Mariss Jansons / Oslo Philharmonic
set of Tchaikovsky Symphonies as a basis for comparison. The times are as
follows (Jansons first). Number 5 has total timings of 42.48 against 52.40,
and the timings for the Sixth are 43.15 and 58.15. Bernstein is ten minutes
and fifteen minutes slower respectively for the two works. There is an almost
unbelievable 17.14 by him against 9.40 from Jansons in the last movement
of the Pathetique. These are staggering differences.
So what happens to the music at these speeds? The Pathetique, despite the
differences quoted above is given a performance that is vital and quite absorbing
and, though one is never unaware of the slow tempi, for three quarters of
the work it is perfectly acceptable in the context of the performance. The
reading convinces, the listener is involved and with a top orchestra so committed
and in such form doubts are held back. The Allegro molto vivace third
movement was especially thrilling with some fine brass playing. Shame about
the Finale, then. It was impossible here to avoid the lack of momentum, where
previously what had been measured playing becomes ponderous and plodding.
A recommendation then for a highly individual reading with a strong view
behind it, but with substantial reservations.
Sadly the Fifth is a non-starter. Obviously it is slow but the chief failing
is the lack of rhythmic impetus that gives its partner some appeal. It veers
from excessively slow to the occasionally rushed and the NYPO is not at its
best. As a reading it lacks consistency and coherence. Leonard Bernstein's
other contribution is the Romeo and Juliet Overture in a powerful, intense,
spectacularly recorded version.
The Berlin Philharmonic performance of the Nutcracker was highly rated when
it came out and it easy to see why. The recording team really went to town
to make a showcase presentation and everything is clear and transparent.
So much so that tales one hears of the CD collector going to his first live
concert and being disappointed by what he could - or more importantly could
not hear - come to mind. Rostropovich appears to revel in the music and with
the BPO at peak form this is an entrancing version.