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Eleven 11s
6. Third Movement
by David Barker


Third Movement - Adagio: In memoriam (Eternal memory)

Unsurprisingly, the key emotion here is grief for the fallen. The movement begins pizzicato in the lower strings - the survivors slowly crawling away perhaps - leading into a funeral march, literally, as the melody is borrowed from the song “Funeral March of the Workers”. The violins keen out their grief before the brass introduce a new darker and angrier theme, using the song “Hail, Free Word of Liberty”. This is taken over by the violins in more hopeful mood, and this builds to the emotional climax of the movement which is so Tchaikovskian, it would not be out of place in Swan Lake. After this, drained by the outpouring of grief, we return to the march that opened the movement.

Comparative remarks
Even more than in the first movement, there are extraordinary variations in tempo, from Lazarev under 9 minutes to Caetani over 15. With such a difference, you would expect that one approach might work better than the other, and you would be correct.

< 10 min Lazarev, Rozhdestvensky
10-14 min Petrenko, Berglund, Haitink, Barshai, Stokowski, Kitajenko, Rostropovich, DePreist
> 14 min Caetani

Let’s take them in increasing order of duration.

Lazarev’s decision to take this so quickly - andante at the very least - is a mistake. There is no tragedy or grieving in it, and the majesty of the Tchaikovskian theme is lost. It should have been a case of “let’s see if this speed works - no, it doesn’t - do it again slower”.

Rozhdetvensky is not quite as quick, but the same comments apply. Clearly, he had some specific ideas about how to approach the symphony, but to go from such a slow pace in the fast movement to such a fast one in the slow seems to me to be rather perverse (and unsuccessful). Rostropovich and Petrenko choose very different approaches to the mainstream, but they hold to their ideas across the whole work, which seems a better way.

Petrenko’s brisk tempos overall did not serve him well in the first movement, and I expected a similar problem here. However, that wasn’t the case - he was able to express the intense emotions without seeming to rush. Berglund is perfectly adequate here, but there are a number that probe the depths of feeling more.

Haitink is again a little too detached, but Barshai regains the intensity found in the first movement, the climax being particularly gripping. Surprising for me was the restraint shown by Stokowski to the point where the sense of sadness is not as strong as for others.

Again the unheralded Kitajenko rings absolutely true - everything sounds just right. The pizzicato strings at the start bring to mind the image of someone tiptoeing away from the scene of the slaughter. There is a very strong sense of grief throughout, and the climax is as good as the Rostropovich. I would love to hear Kitajenko conduct Tchaikovsky. This is the best of all.

The engineering of the live Rostropovich lets him down here - the opening march is almost inaudible (the occasional audience noise is louder). This time, his slow tempo does not get in the road of the music - quite the contrary, I’m pleased to be able to report that here at the very least, this much-praised recording lives up to the plaudits. The emotional outpouring is beautiful, and the Tchaikovsky feeling is very strong.

The DePreist, slightly slower than the Rostropovich, plods with a heavy tread throughout, and while this is more appropriate here, it still remains unimpressive.

The Caetani is more than a minute slower again, and at first I thought it would be drawing the music out too far. The pizzicato bass march at the start is very slow, but a different beat to the DePreist. However, rather than remaining at this pace, Caetani builds to the climax, and it is as glorious and intense as the Rostropovich.

Best: Kitajenko, Rostropovich
Worst: Lazarev

Third Movement

 

 


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