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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Capriccio Italien Op.45 (1880) [14.49]
Francesca da Rimini Op.32 (1877) [24.02]
Marche Slave Op.31 [10.38]
Overture – 1812 Op.49 (1880) [14.57]
Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields/Neville Marriner
Recorded at St Jude’s, London, 1990-92
CAPRICCIO SACD 71 042 [64.53]



I have very fond memories of an ASMIF/Marriner recording of the Serenade for Strings that did – and still does – yeoman service on my LP racks. There was real delicacy and warmth to it and a sure ear for the gradients of lyricism that seem to me captivating. That was recorded well before these resurrected 1990-92 traversals that Capriccio have now installed in their increasingly viable SACD series of releases – hybrid multichannel discs, as they’re known in the business. If I can’t summon up the same kind of enthusiasm for this quartet of performances I have no real complaints with the playing as such. Rather there’s a sense of hanging fire, of a certain distance that certainly does no favours for Francesca da Rimini a work that invites a degree of extremity from Vesuvian maestri with personality to burn.

Let’s not mention the raft of great conductors who’ve taken on the complexities of Francesca but Marriner could be considered, with fairness, something of an anti-Stokowskian in his approach. There’s close textual fidelity, not least with regard to tempo indications, and the orchestra plays well (some cloudy, obscuring engineering tends to overbalance the orchestra’s choirs) but not very excitingly. There’s a want of real energy and a rather slack approach generally.

Capriccio Italien has been done to death often enough but the very best performances bring something new-minted to it. Certainly Marriner’s band exhibits some of its customary elegance in the violin section; winds and brass are warm, the pizzicati well timed, rhythms sprung attractively – but overall there’s a well-mannered, rather sedentary feel to it. It’s neither especially playful nor viscerally exciting. I have to admit my preference here is for a bit of old-fashioned vulgarity; Marriner’s imperatives are to tame the beast with charity; I prefer a good all-in tag match with Capriccio Italien. There are two fillers – a rather laid back Marche Slave and a pleasing, though once again not particularly acrid, 1812, complete with canon fire.

If you’re looking for Gergiev-like drama in Tchaikovsky you won’t be reading this review. I hate to belittle the disc by calling it too civilised because that implies that raw and gutty playing is the only approach. Let’s say that these performances rather underestimate the level of theatrical projection necessary to carry them off successfully. For those qualities you really will need to look elsewhere.

Jonathan Woolf







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