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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1896)
1. Symphony No 5 in E minor, Op. 64 (1888) [44’31"]
2. Duet from Romeo and Juliet [11’42"]
The Queen of Spades (excerpts)
3. Arioso of the Countess [6’19"]
4. Herman’s scene [5’51"]
5. Final Scene [3’05"]
Marina Meshcheriakova (soprano) (2)
Irina Christyakova (mezzo-soprano) (3)
Vitaly Tarashchenko (tenor) (2,4 & 5)
Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Radio/Vladimir Fedoseyev
Live recordings: (1): 4 October 1998; (2): December 1998; (3-5): 24 May 1999 in the Great Hall of Moscow Conservatoire
RELIEF CR 991051 [71’37"]


This is another in the series of CDs celebrating the silver jubilee of conductor Vladimir Fedoseyev’s association with the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Radio. As with the recording of the Sixth Symphony that I reviewed recently, this performance of another well-known symphony is coupled with some intriguing rarities.

The music that may be least familiar to collectors is the duet from what Tchaikovsky originally intended to be an opera on the subject of Romeo and Juliet. He made sketches for the opera between 1879 and 1881, including the present duet in which he reworked material from his celebrated Fantasy Overture, Romeo and Juliet (1869). For whatever reason, Tchaikovsky abandoned the project and did not even complete the duet. It was finished and orchestrated after his death by his friend, the composer, Taneyev. Listeners will be fascinated to hear familiar themes from the overture in a new guise. It receives a fine, ardent performance here. Soprano Marina Meshcheriakova has plenty of vocal power but she is also capable of singing tenderly. Opposite her is tenor Vitaly Tarashchenko whose voice is a fine example of that uniquely Slavic tenor sound, plangent, ringing and heady. (I hope I’ve got his name right; it’s spelt in two different ways in the documentation and I’ve used the version most frequently employed.) I found this a most welcome discovery and the performance fully justifies the exclamation of "bravo" from a member of the audience at the end. I must say, however, that I thought the applause could have been edited: forty-nine seconds is a bit too much.

The excerpts from The Queen of Spades were recorded at a concert on the eve of the bicentenary of Pushkin’s birth. Irina Christyakova is a commanding, histrionic mezzo, very much in the Russian tradition. Like several of her compatriots, she has a pronounced vibrato, which I found a bit wide for my taste. However, she sings very dramatically and has real vocal presence. Tarashchenko is once again the tenor and he sings with dramatic fervour and with great intensity. In this he is matched by the orchestra. In these excerpts the singers and the orchestra are more closely balance than is the case in the symphony or in the Romeo and Juliet duet. There’s also quite a bit of coughing and other extraneous noise from the audience. At the very end of the Final Scene an uncredited male chorus appears briefly, producing a superb, intense Russian choral sound.

The main item on the disc is the Fifth symphony. Fedoseyev directs a performance that is full of conviction. I suspect that his reading of the first movement will not be to all tastes. His basic tempo for the main allegro is conventionally brisk, which is fine with me. However, on several occasions he slows the tempo significantly although a slower speed is not marked in the score. Thus, at the passage marked molto espressivo at bar 116 (track 1, 3’54") the brakes are applied quite sharply (the same thing happens when this passage is reprised at 10’10".) The trouble with this is that Fedoseyev thereby anticipates the poco meno animato by some 12 bars and the music sounds over-indulged. Again, the molto tranquillo at bar 170 is surely too slow? On the credit side, however, the faster music is undeniably exciting and the orchestra’s attention to dynamic markings is faithful throughout.

In the remainder of the symphony there are no comparable idiosyncrasies of tempo. The famous horn solo at the start of the second movement is played with a very Russian timbre. This is a sound that is almost never heard these days but it sounds so right in this music – and the solo is very well played into the bargain. There’s plenty of Russian soul in the performance of this movement. The third movement waltz is played with a graceful lilt. The melody is marked "dolce con grazia" at the outset and that’s just how Fedoseyev’s first violins deliver it. Later on there’s some fine work by the woodwind principals.

Unlike some conductors Fedoseyev does not play the start of the finale too slowly. He thereby avoids any portentousness but there’s no lack of weight in the playing. When the main allegro is reached (track 4, 2’20") the music really takes off and the playing has real drive and bite (though, as in the companion issue of the Pathétique, the timpanist seems to get a bit carried away in his enthusiasm.) Fedoseyev brings the symphony to a suitably grand conclusion and the audience rewards him and his players with an enthusiastic reception.

This would not be a first choice version of the symphony but it is well played and the fill-ups are interesting and a bit different. Sad to say, there are no texts or translations for the vocal items. The notes, at least as translated, are florid and of limited use.

John Quinn


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