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Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No. 1 in G minor, Op. 13, ‘Winter daydreams’ (1866, rev. 1874) [43’24].
The Snow-Maiden, Op. 12 (1873) [16’14] – Entr’acte; Melodrama; Entr’acte; Melodrama; Allegro vivace.
Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Radio/Vladimir Fedoseyev.
Rec. 1998 (venue unspecified)
RELIEF CR991045 [DDD] [59’51]

Dedicated to Nikolai Rubinstein, Tchaikovsky’s First Symphony was first performed in Moscow in February 1868. When it was composed Tchaikovsky was 26 and his youthful, if still somewhat green, fervour shines through the score. Fedoseyev ensures there is plenty of drama in the first movement (‘Daydreams of a Winter Journey’ – or, as this disc translates, ‘Dreams on a Winter Road’). The musical argument unfolds naturally; the tender second movement (‘Land of gloom, land of mist/A Gloomy Land, A Foggy Land’) is beautifully balanced orchestrally and marvellously phrased. What appears to be a rather strange balance at around 3’40 detracts somewhat, though – the wind accompaniment is too strong, taking the attention away from the lyrical melody on strings.

The third movement (Scherzo) is where this performance really takes off, though. This is very special playing - the music dances, light as air. Strings textures are all but transparent while woodwind trip around affectingly. A pity the counterpoint in the finale seems compositionally clumsy (little can rescue it) – despite this, Fedoseyev makes it work well as a whole.

The coupling on the present Relief disc is fascinating and apt (not always the case with this company). The excerpts from the incidental music to Ostrovsky’s play The Snow Maiden are most appealing. The music for Snegurochka, for such it is in transliterated Russian, was written quickly (in three weeks) for the first staging of the play at the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow. Of course the subject was used, shortly afterwards, by Rimsky-Korsakov, as the basis for his opera of 1882 (Tchaikovsky was apparently disappointed that he had been pipped at the post here). The fairy-tale plot (a maiden of snow whose heart will melt if she feels the warmth of love …) evidently appealed to Tchaikovsky, if the interludic music on show here is anything to go by. The meltingly limpid clarinet in the first Entr’acte is particularly noteworthy (for a change as far as Relief is concerned, the soloist is not credited). While the easy flow of the first Melodrama may speak more of craftsmanship than the white-heat of inspiration, the quiet interior statement of the second Entr’acte and the half-voices of the second Melodrama contain more than enough to fascinate. The final ‘Allegro vivace’ is as jubilant as Tchaikovsky comes, especially when performed like this. The triangle-emphasised woodwind accents are judged to perfection in what is in effect a life-enhancing dance.

One of the best in the Fedoseyev/Relief series - highly recommended.


Colin Clarke



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