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Harold Moores

Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74, ‘Pathétique’ (1893).
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Pierre Monteux.
Rec. Symphony Hall, Boston, 26 January 1955. ADD
RCA RED SEAL LIVING STEREO SACD 82876 61397 2 [44’14]

If this seems short measure at less that three quarters of an hour playing time, all is forgiven by a miraculous finale to Tchaikovsky’s last symphony. Throughout, Monteux’s mastery of both his orchestra and Tchaikovsky’s symphonic canvas is utterly masterly. As the blurb on the disc states, this recording dates from Monteux’s reunion with the Bostonians, an orchestra he had commanded in the 1920s. If the recording data is correct, this was recorded in a single day, a monumental achievement it is difficult to imagine, even today with our alleged super-orchestras.

The recording is of huge dynamic range, as it needs to be with this of all pieces. Thus the hushed and concentrated language of the first movement’s Adagio first section (it seems demeaning to call it an introduction) is perfectly caught. It seems that there is a lifetime’s experience going into this; indeed, Monteux, born April 1875, was all but an octogenarian at the time of recording! Definition in the strings is amazing in the first section of the Allegro non troppo. Perhaps the second subject does not creep in miraculously, there is some lower-voltage playing in the development and a spot-lit trumpet can disturb (around 7’10ff). Yet on the credit side are perfectly-placed cross-rhythms, extremely fine pacing and phrasing and strings (around 12’40) surging forth like so much molten lava.

The bright and breezy Allegro con grazia, with its contrastive ‘sighs’ works well. Here, as in the ensuing, chattering Allegro molto vivace, Monteux ensures that if there are references to the world of ballet, they are all encased firmly within a resolutely symphonic whole.

And so to that finale I described as ‘miraculous’. It is – a miracle of control and of shaping; how tender the Bostonian strings can be. The final desolation is fully there as the music expires into silence.

This is a ‘Pathétique’ finale to sit with the greatest. In terms of intensity, there is the feeling that the finale under Monteux is what Bernstein was aiming at in his infamous late DG recording and maybe even achieved, live. Monteux succeeds without resorting to emotional extremes and, in doing so, avoids the bathetic.

Colin Clarke

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