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Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 - 1893)
Symphony No. 4 in F Minor Op. 36 (1877) [42.21]
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Valeri Gergiev
Recorded Live, Grosse Salle Musikverein, Vienna, 17–21 October 2002. DDD
PHILIPS SACD 475 6196 [42’21]

 


After a stunning Tchaikovsky Sixth from Gergiev and his Kirov forces, recently shown on TV, I had very high hopes for this issue. When I saw "Live Recording" emblazoned on the box I was somewhat concerned that we might get a repeat of the crazy, intrusive "Bravo" that for me completely ruined Gergiev’s Vienna recording of the Fifth a couple of years ago. Live recordings can have their attractions, which is fine, unless some idiot, completely convinced that he has to be the first to start applauding, ruins the moment. Here, I am happy to say that the offender was either silenced, or more likely, rehearsal ‘takes’ were substituted to bring this performance to a close.

Having said all that, the performance is well up to the standard of Gergiev’s recent releases in all but one respect: what on earth are Philips thinking of when, as here, they release a 42 minute CD at full price? I understand that later on in the year, this performance will be coupled with the other two last symphonies of Tchaikovsky (5 and 6) as a double disc set. Unless you are desperate to own the current disc it would be better to wait for the combined release. At that stage you might consider buying the Fifth which will probably be split over the two discs. However, given the applause at the end of the Fifth, I wouldn’t bother. Since the Pathetique has been re-recorded with the Vienna Philharmonic, is it perhaps too much to hope that this will also be re-recorded with the end tidied up? I hope so.

The record industry is trying to get us to purchase discs and also trying to get us to try surround sound in SACD format. At present most SACDs are sold at a premium price and, in addition, if the manufacturers try to supply half discs at higher prices, then they are doomed. If Naxos can supply freshly recorded SACDs at their premium price of under a tenner, then what are the bosses at Philips dreaming of. I don’t believe for a moment that it would have not been possible to record a filler for this disc.

But back to the current disc. The performance is superb. The playing of the Vienna Philharmonic is wonderful, with well blended brass and woodwind, and those glorious strings; just the sort of playing that suits Tchaikovsky down to the ground. Also Gergiev’s long experience in the theatre shows up in this most balletic of the symphonies. The performance shows all of the ebb and flow which is generated not just by the emotional content of the work, but also by the fact that we are dealing with a man of the theatre, responsible for the three greatest ballet scores ever.

Some commentators have commented upon the fact that the Gergiev performances don’t have the stature of those put down by Mravinsky, and that if they had been done by the Kirov Orchestra they would have been more excitingly played. This may be true, but personally, I found the performance here to be as satisfying as I have ever come across.

The recording quality cannot be faulted, with the engineers capturing the aristocratic playing of this great orchestra caught on the wing under a conductor who increasingly seems incapable of doing anything wrong. The acoustic of the Musikverein is excellently captured. Listeners who have surround sound will be transported there, the orchestra sounding vivid and lifelike.

How lucky we are to have such performances captured on the wing and released in such a handy format, although in this case value for money is poor.

John Phillips



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