> TCHAIKOVSKY Masterworks Brilliant Classics [RB]: Classical Reviews- April2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
The Masterworks

Symphony No. 4 [43.40]
Marche Slave [9.43]
Symphony No. 5 [47.00]
Capriccio Italien [16.40]
Symphony No. 6 [45.40]
Overture - The Storm [14.17]
Piano Concerto No. 1 [34.43]
Violin Concerto [35.13]
CDs 1-3
London SO/Gennadi Rozhdestvensky
CD4 - Slovak PO
Peter Toperczer (piano); cond Ladislav Slovak
Vladimir Spivakov (violin): cond Zdenek Kosler
rec dates not given. LSO recordings DDD probably late 1980s. Slovak PO ADD probably 1970s
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 99410 [4CDs: 53.18; 63.42; 59.59; 69.36] Superbudget

This is pretty much of a success. At super-bargain price Brilliant deliver three DDD discs by an eminent conductor and top-flight orchestra. The last three Symphonies are well known so there is little need for description and the same applies to the concertos. These occupy the fourth disc which is ADD and licensed from Opus in Slovakia.

Rozhdestvensky is sturdy. He knows these works of his fellow Russian very well. Perhaps his andantino for No. 4 could have done with more of a lilt but the élan and flightiness of the Scherzo more than compensate. Also on the positive side the valour and high romance of the Allegro con fuoco communicates well if without the ferocious unanimity and steely edge of Mravinsky and the Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra (DG). Rozhdestvensky's Fifth is broad, earnest and controlled. There is none of the near hysteria of Mravinsky. We could have done with more of that rather than having everything quite so buttoned down. The brass are caught on good form with a healthy rasp in the brass buffets at 4.10 of the first movement. The French horn section is in the pink with a mature rolling roar to their ravening calls and fanfares. The conductor also adopts an expansive stance in the Pathétique but avoids the extremes. I have heard nervier interpretations of the allegro molto vivace but the playing is spirited enough. The best movement is the adagio lamentoso where not once is the concentration broken and where a myriad orchestral details register with fresh clarity. An example is the metallic rattle of the horns played well - all the way down to pp.

Of the 'makeweights' two are the war-horse stock of the Royal Albert Hall Victor Hochhauser concerts of yesteryear. Each of the three fillers is allocated one per symphony. The Marche is one of Tchaikovsky's few concessions to the Borodin nationalist school. The Capriccio Italien (that strange mix of Italian and French in the title) exhibits the virtues of tight control and precision (as an illustration listen to the controlled 'jabs' of the strings at 4.03). This is a deliberate and four-square approach rather than a euphoric one. While I hanker after more substantial fillers: e.g. Hamlet, Francesca and Romeo and Juliet two of those selected (the Marche and Capriccio) will go down well with the novice. The Storm (after the play by Ostrovsky) is a rarity; not top-drawer Tchaikovsky but Rozhdestvensky gives it a lively interpretation avoiding bombast.

The two concertos are from a Slovak analogue source complete with almost vestigial hiss. The sound is coarser than that for the Rozhdestvensky discs and can be raw when the strings are under pressure at forte and above. I am guessing that these two tapes were made in the mid to late 1970s. Toperczer has plenty of power and the orchestra is on good form though the tremulous flute in the andantino semplice will not be to all likings - it isn't to mine. Spivakov is very good with a tone rather like a cross between Oistrakh's and Mullova's. It is ringingly (almost aggressively) clear in this recording which is an improvement on that of the Piano Concerto. Spivakov's playing, in some way I cannot articulate, expresses intelligence as well as emotional architecture. He despatches Tchaikovsky's hurdles with style and control. The sound on this disc is recorded at a much higher level than on the Rozhdestvensky discs.

There are no liner notes at all and no discographical information - no dates or locations.

The three DDD discs have demonstration quality sound and if Rozhdestvensky can be rather four-square the performances are of a type that would satisfy in the concert hall. They do not set the pulse racing nor are they manic. These are honest and inspired without exaggeration or affected point making. Much the same can be said of the Toperczer piano concerto. Spivakov is in a different league altogether - something special there. All in a no-frills package. Shop around.

Rob Barnett


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