Most readers will probably own at least one classic recording
of the Pathétique. To clarify my own - obviously very
Russian! - position, the interpreters whose discs I take from
the shelves most often include Golovanov, Mravinsky and Svetlanov.
Those gentlemen had already set down arguably definitive – if
very individual – recordings by the end of the 1960s so why, one
might ask, do we need any more?
are, I think, two obvious answers. The first is that technological
advances and consequent significant improvements in recorded
sound justify re-recording the core repertoire. And the second
is that there is always room for a new disc when the interpreters
have something novel to say about even the most familiar work.
last Pathétique I added to my own collection, for instance,
was the controversial 2003 recording by Mikko Franck and the Swedish
Radio Symphony Orchestra (on Ondine ODE10022). That intensely
subjective reading was characterised by some immensely slow tempi,
with the finale, for instance, clocking in at an unbelievable
14:19, almost half as long again as the 9:45 of Mravinsky’s 1961
recording. That may well have provided me with a Pathétique
in state of the art sound, but Franck’s interpretation is not
one that I choose to return to with any regularity.
what of this new version? Certainly, the sound is as good
as it currently gets. The immediate impression may be of
a slight degree of bass-heaviness, especially when compared
to those brassy, if not downright raucous, Soviet recordings
already mentioned. But, the more one listens, the more one
appreciates that the sound picture here is utterly realistic,
with engineering so subtle that it actually appears that there
hasn’t been any at all. In fact, this is a disc that places
you in the Wuppertal concert hall’s best seats and simply
leaves you to listen to the music-making. You will be relieved
to know that, apart from the odd cough or two in the first
movement, your fellow audience members are very discreet.
is this a performance that is actually worth hearing? I think
it is, for the sake of appreciating Kamioka’s particular conception
of the work. Oddly enough, one of the most striking elements
of that conception is the conductor’s use of silence. I am
not sure that I would go all the way with booklet writer Professor
Dr. Lutz-Werner Hesse who refers to Tchaikovsky’s “ability
to base an evolution of maximal power on nothing more than
extreme silence”, if only because I find it hard to see how
one silence can be any more “extreme” than another. But the
inordinately long pauses that Kamioka introduces for dramatic
effect - most notably in the first and last movements - are
certainly most effective. It is also worth highlighting that
his decision to dramatically shorten the pause between
the third and fourth movements also makes a striking musical
opening of the first movement does a great deal to set the
atmosphere for the whole performance. The adagio is
weightier than usual – less an introduction than a statement
of intent – and Kamioka’s careful control of a wider than
usual dynamic range effectively creates an atmosphere of both
mystery and apprehensive foreboding. The subsequent allegro
non troppo is more conventional in approach, but provides
a useful showcase for the orchestra to show its capabilities.
The woodwind make a particularly positive impression but both
the brass and the strings are clearly more than merely competent.
Kamioka employs considerable but generally tasteful rubato
and a wide dynamic range, both contributing to a particularly
dramatic reading of the score in which the timpanist, to take
just a single example, is encouraged to make an even weightier
contribution than usual.
second movement gives the orchestra’s sonorous string section
its head and Kamioka keeps the music flowing as its designation
allegro con grazia indicates it should, though without
ever losing its sense of purpose. Once again, careful control
of dynamic range reinforces the conductor’s musical intentions.
and powerful brass players stand out in the allegro molto
vivace third movement. That timpanist, too, makes a dramatic
impression – more so than in any other account I have heard
– at 7:05. Yet Kamioka skilfully ensures, as many conductors
fail to do, that the movement’s final bars make clear that
all the preceding musical bombast has been essentially hollow
and, at the final reckoning, built on sand. The virtually
immediate entry of the final adagio lamentoso movement
thus seems absolutely right and in context. The sonority
of the strings is once more apparent and – yet again! – dramatically
contrasted dynamics emphasise the theatricality of the overall
conception. The final pages see a complete breakdown that
leaves an even bleaker and more negative impression than usual,
especially on the evidently traumatised Wuppertal audience
who are too stunned to applaud until after several seconds
of, no doubt, “extreme” silence.
in all, then, this is a disc that is well worth investigating.
The Pathétique is such a subjective and multi-faceted
work that you short-change yourself by owning just a single
version. Kamioka’s penchant for high drama offers an approach
at least as valid as several others and he is well served
by the orchestra that he has headed since 2004. It would
be nonsense to suggest that the Berlin or Vienna Philharmonic
need see it as a potential rival, but the Sinfonie Orchester
Wuppertal is clearly a first class regional ensemble that
responds in a disciplined yet sensitive manner to its conductor.
booklet notes are presented first in Japanese, then in German
and only third in English. That suggests to me that perhaps Kamioka
has a bigger reputation in his homeland, where he has conducted
the NHK-Symphony Orchestra and the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra,
and in the German-speaking areas of Europe where he has given
regular concerts with the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie, Bamberger
Sinfoniker and the radio orchestras of Westdeutscher Rundfunk,
Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk, Bayerischer Rundfunk and Südwestrundfunk.
the basis of this disc, though, I’d suggest that it may well
not be too long before Toshiyuki Kamioka’s name is rather
more widely known and appreciated.