Riccardo Muti, a stranger
to these shores now, has a special relationship
with the Orchestre National de France.
He conducts them every year, and the
present issue adds further interest
to his discography. Of course this is
not his first foray into the wilds of
the ‘Pathétique’ (there is a
famous Philharmonia EMI recording),
but the live aspect might be thought
to add an extra angle.
In point of fact, instead
of there being an added frisson of danger,
this is a remarkably careful account
almost as if rehearsal time had been
limited. There are also some contradictory
moments - the arrival of the ‘sighing’
theme at 4’52 is not as touching as
the preceding perfect tailing off would
seem to imply it should be, for example.
This despite the fact that the woodwind/string
dialogue at 3’18 onwards in the first
movement speaks of careful rehearsal.
In general, the orchestra seems unwilling
to let itself go.
The very opening is
indeed from the shadows, but it is not
a patch on the most recent ‘Pathétique’
to come my way before this one,
Furtwängler’s 1938 Berlin traversal
. The same could be said of the entire
The Allegro con grazia
is suave, but not as elegant as many;
the Allegro molto vivace third movement
is simply careful for most of its duration.
True, it does get grittier later, but
never really takes off. If the very
opening of the (in)famous finale is
indeed a heartfelt cry, it fails to
lead to a hyper-emotive statement. Under
Muti, this flows along nicely, but Furtwängler
it is not (and, some might argue, it
isn’t Tchaikovsky either, not really).
Even the perilously low horn stopping
around the eight-minute mark and beyond
is blunted here.
There is no doubting
the excellence of the Orchestre National
de France, and the engineers have done
a fine job in capturing this event (including
the odd bit of audience noise, but nothing
Expectations ran high
for this release, especially in the
light of Muti’s Romeo and Juliet
with the New Philharmonia that I reviewed
early in 2002 . However, with the
multiplicity of available recordings
of this masterwork, it is hard to recommend
this except perhaps to die-hard Muti
fans. The fact there is no coupling
just adds insult to injury.