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Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 - 1893)
Fatum (symphonic fantasia) Op. 77 (1868)
Elegie for String Orchestra (1884)
Marche Slave Op. 31 (1876)
Andante cantabile for String orchestra, arr. Serebrier
Capriccio italien Op. 45 (1879/80)
1812 Overture Op. 49 (1880)
Bamberg Symphony Orchestra/Jose Serebrier.
recorded in the Konzert and Kongresshalle, Bamberg, February 2000 and February 2001.DDD
BIS CD-1283 [74’01]


This is the second release in this series which I have heard, and I must say at the outset, that whatever reservations I might have had about starting yet another Tchaikovsky series, these releases go from strength to strength.

The present disc contains a clever mixture of popular and not so popular works of the Russian Master, and this time, the disc is better filled, playing for 74 minutes. As before we have performances which I would rate as almost the very best. They are recorded in first rate up-to-date sound, in a very life like acoustic, which gives one the idea of the orchestra in the room.

The orchestra need not worry about comparisons with the very best. Although it does not show the tonal splendour of, say, the Berlin Philharmonic, it has a very attractive way of phrasing these works so that they seem to hang together somewhat better in competing interpretations. I haven’t enjoyed a Tchaikovsky concert as much as this for a long time.

Serebrier’s training by Leopold Stokowski, George Szell and the like shows quite clearly, with all of these works showing an ebb and flow which sounds quite natural and in no way contrived.

The earliest work on the disc (if we ignore Tchaikovsky’s first efforts at Romeo and Juliet) is the symphonic fantasia "Fatum". If there is a somewhat under-developed lyrical technique displayed here, Tchaikovsky’s skills are clearly in evidence, showing good, if not totally inspired tunes plus brilliant orchestration. Perhaps lacking the ultimate effects of his later works, this fantasy is a superb example of Tchaikovsky’s art. Although it got off to a good start, conducted by Anton Rubinstein, the composer, conductor and audience were all well pleased by the result. A subsequent performance in St. Petersburg conducted by Balakirev, was a relative failure, based upon the reaction of audience and the detailed criticism of the conductor, who was also the dedicatee of the score. This caused Tchaikovsky to destroy the score, and Fatum was not performed again until it was resurrected from orchestral parts long after the composer’s death. The Bambergers play for all they are worth, with the biggest plus point being that their enthusiasm in playing counteracts any slight differences in tonal beauty and ultimate virtuosity when compared with the very best of a crowded market.

Capriccio italien receives a very good (middle of the road) performance, and the orchestra plays with much spirit. This confirms very clearly Tchaikovsky’s high spirits engendered by an Italian holiday during which he heard many of the themes used in the work.

In the 1812, the question is usually – "how are the cannons dealt with." BIS has always been the label of good taste, and this shows in the 1812. There is no mention anywhere about which cannons and bells were used in this recording, unlike some others where pride of place is given to the cannonade. In this recording, cannons have been, but which cannons and where from, I am unable to say. Needless to say, BIS makes them contribute to the proceedings rather than to completely dominate them. I am sure that we don’t have any of the John Culshaw high jinks of slowing down a revolver shot to make for me the most realistic shots ever. That disc (LSO/Alwyn) is currently unavailable and has never been released on CD. Come on Decca where has this disc gone?

The remainder of the disc (The Elegie, and the famous Andante cantabile) is delectable. Well done BIS, Serebrier and the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra; to say nothing of Tchaikovsky.

If you want this repertoire, this is a very, very, good disc.
John Phillips



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