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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No.2 in C Minor Op.17 Little Russian (1872) [34:35]
Serenade for Strings in C Major Op.48 (1880) [33:02]
USSR State Symphony Orchestra/Evgeni Svetlanov
Rec. 1967-1970, USSR, ADD
REGIS RRC 1266 [67:37]
 


For most of us in the West the sustaining legacy of Evgeni Svetlanov (1928-2002) lies in his numerous recordings. This conductor’s Soviet recordings were made by Melodiya and have been licensed by various companies including BMG, CDK, various Russian satellites, and now Regis and Warner.
 
In the 1980s he began appearing in the seasons of various European orchestra. Recordings followed including ones for Phono-Suecia and Harmonia Mundi.
 
The present analogue tapes derive from Moscow sessions some four decades ago with the conductor’s own USSR SSO. His Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 2 is possessed and driven. He does not treat it as a cadet work instead infusing it with just sufficient of that edgy quasi-hysteria normally allotted to Manfred and the last three numbered symphonies.
 
The brass has plenty of character and can blare (9:10 in I) and warble (10:15 in I). No complaints there. The final confiding bassoon meditation that rounds off the first movement is played as if it could easily launch off into the Pathétique. There is a gratifying Bizet-like cheekiness in the metronomic tic-toc drum beat and a stalwart steadiness in the lower woodwind. This is a great orchestra caught in its deeply impressive and tightly disciplined prime. In the finale Svetlanov and Tchaikovsky treat us to thunderous echoes of 1812 and Borodin’s Second  Symphony but also finds time for scudding string writing. This is indeed one of the most Russian nationalist of the Tchaikovsky symphonies.
 
The same symphony from Temirkanov and the RPO in 1990 is in their RCA-BMG Complete Collection box (see review). He turns in a strongly characterised performance but it is not in quite the same league for grip and response as Philips’ red-blooded 1966 version from the LSO and Igor Markevich. I heard the latter from the 1997 bargain box 456 187-2. Both Temirkanov and Markevitch enjoy a less lapel-grabbing recording perspective than Svetlanov. Bernstein’s bargain Sony box of the complete symphonies includes a strong Second Symphony from October 1967 but it is the least well recorded.
 
As for Svetlanov’s Serenade, this is ripe and resonant in performance and in recording. You can almost feel the pizzicato such is the impact – try 5:12 in the finale. Svetlanov’s control and the way in which he distributes weight and tone between the parts is a sheer joy to hear. His tight control over the rhythmic line, his concern for sharp definition and dynamic throw into dramatic relief those great waves of melody that sing out over the backdrop. The introduction to the finale manages to be hesitant, confiding and tense all at once. The unanimity of attack is breathtaking and very satisfying. The recording is no spring chicken but it is richly vibrant yet not as plush as the Sony-CBS-Ormandy (see review). Listen to that balalaika shiver at 7:04.
 
Are there any currently available single disc versions of Symphony No. 2? I cannot recall any. Certainly none at bargain price. Regis march with forthright confidence into the market and fill a gap. Tchaikovsky fans who know the great works will be reassured by the Serenade and will be richly rewarded by taking bargain price gamble on the Second Symphony. Who knows, perhaps Svetlanov’s Winter Daydreams and Francesca da Rimini next?
 
A prime disc especially at bargain price. If you doubt me try sampling from 3:03 onwards in the scherzo of the symphony – the sparkling flight of flute and staccato.
 
Rob Barnett
 

 

 



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