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Buywell Just Classical

Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Complete Symphonies
Volume 1: CD 1
Symphony No. 1 in G minor, op.13 “Winter Daydreams” (1866) [40:23]
Volume 1: CD 2
Symphony No. 2 in C minor, op.17 “Little Russian” (1872) [33:11]
Symphony No. 3 in D major, op.29 “Polish” (1875) [42:23]
Volume 2: CD 1
Symphony No. 4 in F minor, op.36 (1877) [39:34]
Volume 2: CD 2
Symphony No. 5 in E minor, op.64 (1888) [46:27]
Volume 3: CD 1
Symphony No. 6 in B minor, op.74 “Pathétique” (1893) [43:50]

Volume 3: CD 2

Manfred Symphony in B minor, op.58 (1885) [54:03]

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra/Oleg Caetani

rec. live concerts, The Arts Centre, Hamer Hall and Robert Blackwood Hall, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, March 2007 and March 2008

ABC CLASSICS 4766442 [6 CDs: 40:23 + 75:34 + 39:34 + 46:27 + 43:50 + 54:03]


Experience Classicsonline

The year 2005 appeared to start well for conductor Oleg Caetani: Oleg Caetani, has been named as the new music director of the English National Opera...  [and] will take on the post in September 2006 for the start of the 2006-2007 season...  [ABC News Online, 18 February 2005.]

But then, just ten months later: English National Opera has ... confirmed that Oleg Caetani would not be taking up his post as music director only weeks before he was due to start.  [The Stage News, 30 December 2005.] 

But if 2005 wasn’t a particularly happy time for Oleg Caetani in the UK, he had more reason to smile on the other side of the world. There he took up the post of Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of Australia’s senior professional orchestra, the Melbourne Symphony – an association that has, by all accounts, been rather more fruitful. 

Certainly, this new box set of live recordings contains a great many good things and, while there are no particularly novel interpretative insights on offer, these uniformly lively, energetic and well thought out performances are undoubtedly very attractive. 

Over the years many conductors have been tempted to personalise these scores by imposing on them all manner of musical idiosyncrasies – if not downright eccentricities.  And though a few have done so with skill - if also with arguably bad taste - most have merely succeeded in revealing their own deficiencies.  In fact, it is usually a case of “less is more” in this repertoire and, while one may well secretly enjoy the guilty pleasures of, say, Mengelberg or Stokowski in full Romantic overdrive, their recordings actually tell us more about those particular conductors themselves than they do about Tchaikovsky and his music.  Thus it is that the most consistently recommended modern recording of the cycle is probably the comparatively sober-suited one by Mariss Jansons. 

On these new discs of live concert hall recordings, Oleg Caetani offers us admirably “straight” and unfussy accounts of the scores.  That is not to say, though, that his interpretations lack character for there are several consistent elements that allow one to speak of an overall Caetani “approach” to the music.  They include a frequently purposeful tread and disinclination to linger, general avoidance of rubato, the absence of frequently-encountered musical neuroticism (the Pathétique) or melodrama (Manfred) and a wide and carefully controlled dynamic range.  All these characteristics were put into especially sharp relief by the fact that the last set of Tchaikovsky symphonies I listened to from beginning to end was conducted by Rostropovich.  There could hardly be a greater contrast, with the Russian quenching our thirst with a glass of honey and Caetani offering a glass of water straight from a cold mountain stream. 

The avoidance of overt, thickly-applied sentimentality in these new recordings is most obvious in the “big tunes” of the fifth and sixth symphonies, but anyone familiar with any of the other works will also find numerous examples of passages where one usually finds conductors pulling back for effect – but not in this case.  The effect is both refreshing and illuminating, and the music gains too in overall structure and coherence.  The most striking advantages of this approach come in Manfred which, just for once, seems to be far more closely integrated with the rest of the cycle than usual, rather than sticking out as something of a sore thumb. 

The Melbourne orchestra is clearly a well-drilled band that plays, moreover, with verve and style and is well recorded in a clear but generous acoustic.  One never knows these days whether to credit the conductor or his engineers with achieving a fine orchestral balance but, whichever it is, the praise is well merited on this occasion.  Plenty of delightful detail emerges throughout and all sections of the orchestra acquit themselves very well.  Audience noise is thankfully minimal. They are, in fact, so quiet after the final bars of the Pathétique that I thought for a few seconds that they were not there at all. 

So how does Oleg Caetani fare in just one more comparison – with his father, the late Igor Markevitch, who, between 1962 and 1966, recorded a Tchaikovsky cycle (including Manfred) with the London Symphony Orchestra that is still at or near the top of many critical ratings.  All I can say is that, having listened with so much pleasure to the son’s accounts, I suspect very strongly that his father would be rather proud of him today.

Rob Maynard



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