a great symphonist. A lot of people, even a lot of conductors,
seem to see Tchaikovsky through the lens of the Nutcracker or Swan
Lake or at least of his bravura concertos. So I’ll say
it again: Tchaikovsky is a great symphonist. And it should
be noted that he wrote seven symphonies - the six numbered
ones and Manfred - all of them being at least very good.
The fourth, fifth, and sixth are obvious masterpieces, yet
the remaining ones suffer from unjustified neglect.
Neeme Järvi’s work
has been important in shaping my musical education. When I
started listening to classical music and collecting CDs - when
that medium was still new - his recordings of moderately obscure
Scandinavian and Eastern European composers were often the
only ones readily available. Even for “bigger names” such as
Sibelius and Shostakovich, his recordings were great introductions.
Järvi has recorded a lot — at one point in the 1990s
he had over two hundred recordings to his credit. Was it Donald
Vroon who referred to Järvi as “plugging holes in the repertoire
like a Dutch plumber”? This has led to accusations of workmanship
rather than inspiration. I have, however, found these accusations
Now Järvi is recording
a set of the Tchaikovsky symphonies with the Gothenburg Symphony
- with whom he has worked regularly for something like twenty
years, and which is now being referred to as the “National
Orchestra of Sweden” – BIS. This is on SACD, for those working
to stay up-to-date with audio technology. Several have been
released so far, but this is the first to come my way. Complete
Tchaikovsky cycles are thin on the ground, so from the start
this is likely to be a valuable contribution.
of this issue is the Second Symphony, the “Little Russian” -
so called because of the prominent folk-song theme with which
it opens. Leonard Bernstein’s version was issued in their Royal
Edition on Sony SMK 47631, but it has also been reissued in
the set Sony/Columbia Legends 87987. He brings his own personality
into the mix, as he did with so much. Järvi, however, lets
the music eloquently speak for itself.
works are juvenilia. It is good to have them available, but
they are not masterpieces that will bear repeated listening.
Think of them as studies for the short orchestral works such
as the 1812 Overture or Marche Slave. The
Storm was so heavily orchestrated that it earned a stinging
rebuke from Anton Rubinstein for the poor messenger who delivered
the score to him. The two overtures show Tchaikovsky developing
his skills at using the orchestra and his first attempts to
share his works with a wide public. The Overture in F earned
him a pair of gold cufflinks from Nikolai Rubinstein, which
he then had to sell to address his debts.
Even for those
of us who haven’t moved to SACD, the sound of this issue is
excellent. BIS have always been known for the quality of their
recorded sound, yet comparing this with recordings from the
same label and orchestra from the 1980s shows significant advance
in capabilities over the last twenty years. Topped off by in-depth
liner notes, everything is executed at the highest level.