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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


 

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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony no. 2 in C minor, op. 17 “Little Russian” (1879 version) [32:42]; Overture in F major (1866 version) [11:47]; Festive Overture on the Danish National Anthem in D major, op. 15 (1892 version) [12:09]; The Storm (Groza), Overture, op. 76 (1864) [14:37]
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
rec. Gothenburg Concert Hall, Sweden, November 2004 (Symphony) and August 2004 (Overtures).
BIS SACD-1418 [72:27]
 


Tchaikovsky is 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 largely unfounded.
 
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.
 
The centerpiece 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.
 
The accompanying 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.

Brian Burtt
 

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