This 4 CD, 4 hour playing time set is a narrated biography
of the composer, interspersed with musical excerpts.
Actors and the narrator present episodes large and
small throughout the composers’ life: the Narrator sets up the scene,
and the actors quote from letters and other communications of the time
to bring "life" to the characters.
I’ll take my characters dead, please. The writer has
created an exaggerated bio of Tchaikovsky, with many allusions to life-long
depression due to "unrequited mother-love", sexual misconduct
and various other nonsensical dramatic incidents. Whether true or not,
they add little and seem to only be there to try and spice up classical
music. It is as if the writer decided that all the classical music stereotypes
were true and that it was his job to break them down.
It is truly painful to listen to these actors, all
of whom portray the episodes and characters in the exaggerated highbrow
spoken English associated with bad Shakespearean productions – all of
it over-enunciated and without any vestige of characterisation.
Where this set excels is in the musical excerpts –
they are often presented full-length (i.e., an entire movement instead
of a snippet) and the performances are well-recorded with good ensembles.
Some of the included ensembles are the Vienna Chamber Orchestra with
Philippe Entremont, the Ashkenazy Trio, and the Slovak Radio Orchestra,
under many conductors.
The other area in which it excels is the booklet –
the musicological research done is extensive. It first gives a brief
overview of Western and Russian historical background, a detailed essay
on the major works and their influence on other composers, a recommended
reading list and a short biographical sketch of many of the personalities
alive in Tchaikovsky’s lifetime.
If this were not enough, it then gives a year by year
breakdown of Tchiakovsky’s life, with a selection of arts, cultural,
political and historical events that happened in the same year. The
last two sections of the booklet are a small dictionary of musical terms
and a detailed discography.
This CD would serve well as a classroom aid for any
teacher of music history, if they excerpted out the musical selections
only, and used the booklet as a teaching aid. The seasoned listener
would get very little out of this selection, and would be recommended
to move to something other recording in the Tchaikovsky canon.
Kelly A Rinne