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Decca Phase 4
|Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No.4 in F minor, Op. 36 (1877) [43:38]
Fantasy Overture, Romeo and Juliet (1869 rev. 1870,
Symphony No.5 in E minor, Op. 64 (1888) [49:11]
Francesca da Rimini: Symphonic Fantasy after Dante,
Op. 32 (1876) [23:12]
Symphony No.6 in B minor, Op. 74 ‘Pathétique’ (1893)
1812 Overture (Festival Overture ‘The Year
1812’), Op. 49 (1880) [15:26]
rec. Memorial Hall, Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, USA (Opp.
36, 26 September 1990); (Romeo and Juliet, 29-30 April
1988); (Op. 64 and Francesca da Rimini, 19-21 January
1991); (Opp. 74, 3, 6, 7, 11 November 1989) and The Old Met,
Philadelphia, USA (1812 Overture, February 1981).
5094352 [3 CDs: 63:58 + 72:37 + 63:23]
“I think Tchaikovsky was always ready for immortality ... and with
his final three symphonies he secured his place in the
pantheon of Great Composers.” Valery Gergiev.
The EMI Classics label has raided their extensive back catalogue for
this three disc compilation.
Symphony No.4 in F minor, Op. 36
The Fourth Symphony was written at a particularly crucial point
in Tchaikovsky’s life. 1877 was not only the year of his
disastrous marriage but also the year in which he began his
fifteen-year correspondence with his patroness Nadezhda von
Meck. The F minor Symphony has always been a popular
work with its muscular and melodic writing. Infused throughout
the score is the sense of ‘fate’ which Tchaikovsky believed
controlled his destiny as he described in a letter to Madame
von Meck, “the fateful force which prevents the impulse
to happiness from achieving its goal … which hangs above
your head like the sword of Damocles.”
In the opening movement Andante sostenuto - Moderato con anima the
performance from the Philadelphia Orchestra under Muti is
as exciting as one is likely to hear. Muti blends passion
and power to perfection and the conclusion was awe-inspiring.
The moving and robust Andantino in modo di canzona was
so convincing that I was left with a compelling sense of
Tchaikovsky’s despair and fatigue. In the pizzicato section
of the Scherzo: Pizzicato ostinato (Allegro)
the Philadelphia strings are on their finest form and the
woodwind deserve praise for their assured contribution at
1:44-3:04. There’s tremendous energy and drama in the Finale. Allegro
con fuoco. It is hard to imagine better playing
and I found myself on the edge of my seat. The sound quality
throughout is to demonstration standard.
This performance of the Fourth Symphony is in the premier league
of the alternative recordings and I believe it is probably
the best of all the versions. Other favourite accounts from
my collection are those from Jansons with the Oslo Philharmonic
Orchestra on Chandos CHAN 8361 (c/w Romeo and Juliet Overture);
Mengelberg with the Concertgebouw on Music & Arts mono
CD809 (c/w Symphonies 5 and 6); Rozhdestvensky and
the LSO on Regis RRC 1212 (c/w Marche Slave and 1812
Overture); Mravinsky with the Leningrad PO on DG 419
745-2GH2 (c/w Symphonies 5 and 6); Karajan with the
VPO on Decca Penguin 460 655-2 (c/w Romeo and Juliet Overture)
and Gergiev and the VPO from Vienna in 2002 on Philips 475
6315 0 PX3 (c/w Symphonies 5 and 6).
Fantasy Overture, Romeo and Juliet
Composed in 1869, revised in 1870 and again in
1880 the Fantasy Overture, Romeo and Juliet is
Tchaikovsky’s musical interpretation of Shakespeare’s greatest
tragedy and one of the most enduring works in popularity.
The tone poem contains musical themes that principally represent:
Friar Laurence, the Montague and the Capulets feud, and the
love music of Romeo and Juliet.
Mysterious, powerful, sensuous and passionate,
Muti and his Philadelphia players take
the listeners through a broad spectrum of colour and emotions.
The recording is decent enough but a touch close for my taste.
I remain a great admirer of the account of the Romeo and Juliet
Overture from Pletnev and the Russian NO on DG 471
742-2 (c/w Pathétique) and also the performance
from Karajan with the VPO on Decca ‘Penguin series’ 460
655-2 (c/w Fourth Symphony).
Symphony No.5 in E minor, Op. 64
Composed in 1888 the Fifth Symphony is generally considered
to be the most attractive of Tchaikovsky’s major works. When
he first began writing the symphony he was suffering from
a deep depression. However, he moved to the countryside and
his state of mind became much more relaxed, enjoying the
peace and quiet, gaining a new-found pleasure from his garden.
This E minor Symphony reflects all the violent and
conflicting emotions that he was experiencing at the time
of its composition.
Muti and the Philadelphians provide a grey and sombre opening Andante - Allegro
con anima that gives way to increased weight and power.
One, however, wonders if Muti is keeping something in reserve.
The principal elements of melancholy and beauty
are blended to considerable effect in the Andante cantabile, con
alcuna licenza, although the speeds feel rather
too measured. Here Muti builds up great tension in a moving
interpretation. In the Valse - Allegro moderato the
infectious playing is light with a convincing lilt. With
highly authoritative playing the Philadelphia convey a
triumphant mood in the Finale: Andante maestoso
- Allegro vivace movement. I found the recording clear,
bright and fairly close.
From my collection I highly rate the accounts of the Fifth Symphony from
Jansons and the Oslo PO on Chandos CHAN 8351; Rozhdestvensky
and the LSO on Regis RRC 1213 (c/w Capriccio Italien);
Mravinsky with the Leningrad PO on DG 419 745-2GH2 (c/w Symphonies
4 and 6); Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra on Sony
SBK 46538 (c/w Serenade for Strings) and Gergiev and
the VPO from Salzburg in 1998 on Philips 475 6315 0 PX3 (c/w
Symphonies 4 and 6).
Francesca da Rimini: Symphonic Fantasy
after Dante, Op. 32
Tchaikovsky composed Francesca da Rimini in less than three
weeks during his visit to Bayreuth in 1876. The premiere
performance was given in Moscow in 1877 and proved so popular
that the work was repeated twice a couple of months later.
This is programme music of Dante’s Francesca da Rimini with
the first section depicting the gateway to the Inferno and
the agonies of the condemned. The middle section represents
the tragic love of Paolo and Francesca, and the third part
returns to the Inferno followed by a concluding section.
In Francesca da Rimini Muti and the Philadelphians revel in
the fierce and stormy passages but provide contrast in music
of contemplation with an air of mystery. The clarinet playing
from Anthony Gigliotti especially at 8:28-9:25 is impeccable.
My preferred version of Francesca da Rimini is from the New
Philharmonia Orchestra under Igor Markevitch on Philips Classics
Duo 446 148-2 (c/w Symphonies 1-3).
Symphony No.6 in B minor, Op. 74 ‘Pathétique’
Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, universally known as the Pathétique,
is among the most deeply moving and profound of all works.
An enduring masterwork which Tchaikovsky considered to be
his greatest composition. Once again the struggle against ‘fate’ is
central to this symphony which was to be the last
Tchaikovsky wrote. The première took place in October 1893
at St. Petersburg and just eight days later the composer
was dead. Few farewells in music are more poignant.
Muti and the Philadelphia in the opening movement Adagio - Allegro
non troppo impart a sinister air of shadowy foreboding
with vigour and passion. The main theme is performed with
just the right level of strength and poignancy. The Allegro
con grazia is smooth and good humoured and I was impressed
with the assured control and potency that Muti conveys
in the Allegro molto vivace. Tchaikovsky’s mood
of intense desperation and torment is impressively communicated
in the Finale: Adagio lamentoso - Andante as
they bring the score to a harrowing conclusion. A
special mention goes to the woodwind section for their
splendid playing throughout. Decent sound quality, reasonably
clear and well balanced
I have several favourite versions of the Pathétique Symphony in
my collection that I find deeply satisfying. The account
from Pletnev and the Russian NO on DG 471 742-2 (c/w Romeo
and Juliet Overture); Jansons with the Oslo PO on Chandos
CHAN 8446; Rozhdestvensky and the LSO on Regis RRC 1214 (c/w The
Storm Overture); Mravinsky with the Leningrad PO on DG
419 745-2GH2 (c/w Symphonies 4 and 5) and Gergiev
and the VPO from Vienna in 2004 on Philips 475 6315 0 PX3
(c/w Symphonies 5 and 6). I still admire and regularly
play my first recording of the work, which is on a vinyl
LP, conducted by Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra
on Camden Classics CCV 5024.
1812 Overture, Op. 49
The Festival Overture ‘The
Year 1812’ was composed in 1880 as a commission for the Moscow Exhibition
of 1882; principally for the consecration of the Temple
of Christ the Redeemer constructed to commemorate the Russian
victory over Napoleon. The highly popular 1812 Overture is
noted for its use of Russian themes, cannon shots and church
bells in the coda.
Muti and the Philadelphians provide a vigorous
and characterful performance and is my premier recommendation
of the score. I found the recording most acceptable although
two friends thought the forte passages a touch fierce.
This interpretation is also on the outstanding Muti/Tchaikovsky set from Brilliant Classics
99792 (see below).
Those looking for a complete surveys of Tchaikovsky’s six symphonies
and the Manfred Symphony may wish to turn to Muti’s superb
earlier set with the Philharmonia from London in 1975-81.
The set is now available at super-budget price on Brilliant
Classics 99792. Also included are Muti’s recordings of the
Philadelphia Orchestra during 1981-91 of the Francesca
da Rimini, 1812 Overture, Swan Lake Suite and Serenade
for Strings and a version of the Romeo and Juliet
Overture from the Philharmonia in 1977 in London.
Another splendid alternative is from Mariss Jansons and the Oslo Philharmonic
Orchestra. The set was recorded in the Philharmonic Hall,
Oslo in 1984-86 on Chandos CHAN 86728 and reissued in 2006
on Chandos CHAN 10392 (c/w Capriccio Italien).
Returning to the present set: these are splendid performances from
Riccardo Muti and the Philadelphia Orchestra on EMI Classics.
However, the competition in these scores is extremely fierce
and Muti’s earlier set on Brilliant Classics is generously
filled and makes a tempting first choice.
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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