In what is undoubtedly
the umpteenth reissue of this thirty-plus
year old material, one cannot help but
draw the conclusion that for Russian
orchestras intonation and control over
wind and brass instruments is simply
anathema to the culture. I say this
despite the dramatic intensity with
which they usually play, and the rich
sonorous sound they produce.
There is no doubt that
the late Evgeni Svetlanov, who lead
the U.S.S.R. Symphony orchestra for
thirty-five years, was an able musician,
possessed of a fire and spirit that
make even flawed performances like this
one palatable, at least to a point.
Things get started well enough with
a rich, full-throated clarinet solo
in the symphony. Good pacing, fine ebb
and flow of line follow with some lush
and inspired playing by the string section.
Then come the winds and brass. Consistently,
the players over-blow, causing the brass
to sound overwhelming and the winds
to be excruciatingly out of tune.
The second movement,
with its exquisite horn solo fares well
enough in softer passages, but as soon
as any volume ratchets up, your ears
are assaulted with the flat winds. I
shall not waste bandwidth by detailing
every infraction, but will sum it up
by saying that this is a passionate
and soulful performance, and if you
can stand the intonation mess, you have
an exciting rendition on your hands.
Tchaikovski’s early tone poem based
on the play by Shakespeare receives
a better performance than the symphony,
and this is music that should have a
more prominent place on the stage. It
is brimming with excitement and drama.
Not a flawless performance, but a worthy
The program notes by
Evgeni Kostitsyn are pretentious: "The
symphony requires maturity in a composer…Usually
a symphony is a summary of a composer’s
experience over a substantial period
of time…If symphonies are sometimes
composed by seven-year-old children,
we can call them symphonies only conditionally."
Tell that to Mozart. They are inaccurate:
"The first who established the
idea of ‘leitmotif’ was Beethoven (sic)."
Not really. Leitmotifs are a conscious
assignation of a theme to a specific
character, brought of course into full
fruition by Wagner. Perhaps Beethoven’s
seminal themes (the fifth symphony comes
to mind) were the harbinger of the leitmotif,
but he hardly set out to identify specific
characters with a theme. His description
of the symphony is at best a sophomoric
attempt to be profound: "There
are no symphonies without sonata allegro
or its equivalent." Profundity
fails the writer.
In all, this seems
like a rather homegrown production of
some public domain master tapes. Sound
quality is adequate but the production
values of this disc are minimal at best.
There are other versions (BMG Melodiya),
which are surely more satisfying. I
cannot find much to recommend about