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Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 - 1893)
Capriccio Italien, Op 45 (1789) [16.16]
Romeo and Juliet Overture-Fantasia, Op 45 (1789) [20.22]
Marche Slav, Op 31 (1789) [9.16]
Snow Maiden: Dance of the Tumblers, Op 45 (1873) [4.24]
1812 Overture, Op 49 (1789) [15.33]
National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine/Theodore Kuchar
Recorded at National Radio Grand Concert Studio, Kyiv, Ukraine, 22 August 2001.
Notes in English and Deutsch
NAXOS 8.555923 [65.51]

Comparison recordings:
Hermann Scherchen, LSO (mono) [ADD] TAHRA TAH 415
Overture 1812, Herbert von Karajan, BPO, Don Cossack Choir DGG 4232252
Capriccio Italien, Paul van Kempen, RPO Philips Legendary Classics 4208582



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Here we have an attractive selection of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Greatest Hits’ beautifully and powerfully performed and very well recorded, except that in the early selections the deepest bass is conspicuously absent, there being nothing on the disk below about 90 Hz. This reminds one of LP mastering tapes which were filtered this way to avoid causing groove skips on cheap players. (Maybe they’ll put the low frequencies back in for the DVD-Audio edition?) It is most disturbing during the Marche Slav where the distinction between bass drum and timpani is lost. If you attempt to compensate by turning your bass control up, you’ll be sorry when the cannons come on in the "1812" and take out your woofers if not your eardrums! In contrast to many recordings where the credits for the brass band, bell players and artillerymen occupy half the program notes, there is here nary a mention; but when the time comes no recording has more delirious bells, sharper brass or more aggressively authentic cannon sounds than this one. But I do also like Karajan’s innovation of having the introductory chorale sung by a male choir rather than played as usual on the strings as here.

Before we leave off talking about Marche Slav we might recall that more than 70 years ago a young firebrand of a conductor made a justly famous recording of this rousing work on 78s. His name was Adrian Boult.

The Capriccio Italien is a problematical work. The allegedly Italian philosophy it expounds, that is to say, "when times are bad and all else fails, go out dancing," has rarely been more pointedly expressed, but the contrast is too stark and it takes too long to get going, and when we finally get to dancing we get too drunk too fast. Paul van Kempen did the best job I’ve heard of balancing all this out.

The Dance of the Tumblers was completely new to me, and I naturally had it confused with the piece of the same name by Rimsky-Korsakov. But a piece of completely new Tchaikovsky is as welcome as it is hard to come by.

The Scherchen recording was the very first LP I ever bought and I’ve heard it so many times it’s probably part of my genetic code by now. No other recording could actually ever replace it in my affection, although this Romeo and Juliet is within a razor’s thickness of doing so and is certainly the finest stereo version I’ve ever heard.

Amazingly, even ignoring 50 years of currency inflation, I paid more for that monophonic vinyl disk than you might pay for this digital stereo Naxos CD.

Paul Shoemaker



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