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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No. 6 Pathetique (1893) [47.56]
The Tempest (1872) [28:20]
State Radio Committee Grand Symphony Orchestra/Nikolai Golovanov
rec. 1948, Moscow? ADD. mono
Great Russian Conductors - vol. 5
VISTA VERA VVCD00147 [74:18] 
Experience Classicsonline

This is a blazingly individual Pathétique and a must-hear for all Tchaikovskians with ears able to tolerate raw and virile Soviet interpretations. 

The Pathétique recording has been available before on Boheme Russian Classical Collection CDBMR GOLO1. There the coupling was a startlingly fervent 1812; as it turns out a less generous pairing than offered here. One wonders - and hopes - that there is much more to come from Golovanov (1891-1953) perhaps in the various state radio strong rooms or family collections. 

In the Symphony Golovanov holds the listener's attention in a relentless grip right from the start. We have to contend with a degree of analogue hiss and at one moment in the first movement something that sounds like cross-talk. On the other hand this 1948 recording is forthright and at your shoulder. The reading is full of individual touches including the way he makes the orchestra scud with increasing urgency or even hysteria in the first movement. 

You may well be astonished by the extent to which Golovanov re-emphasises all Tchaikovsky's little accelerations and holdings-back. It's invigorating and fresh in its effect. Time-worn musical phrases are constantly revisited. In the third movement at 2:21 for example the trudging figure is sculpted with a close-up eye to detail and needle sharp definition. Golovanov was only 57 when he made this recording and was in vigorous form despite being within five years of his death in the same year as Stalin and Prokofiev. 

Overall I was very pleased to be encountering this recording again. By contrast with the Boheme CD (no longer available) - and I speak from my fallible memory here -  this version is less processed. There is a slight hiss here, a tizz of micro-level distortion that suggests that sound engineer Rouslan Kryachko might have been a shade less interventionist than the excellent Boheme crew. 

Unlikely to be a first choice for any but the most personal of libraries but as a second version this Pathétique has much to tell us about a disturbing style of performance. There is much to enjoy. The occasional cough in The Tempest near the start, only serves to emphasise the fallible humanity of the endeavour. As a tone poem The Tempest is closer to the Russian nationalism that Tchaikovsky tried to distance himself. Yet it also carries echoes of another Shakespeare play which captivated the composer: Romeo and Juliet, written three years earlier. It may at times sound like a limbering up Hamlet yet it is a fully formed work with many characteristic touches along the way. The love theme, presumably for Miranda, at 12:55 is classic stuff. In Golovanov's hands this neglected tone poem demands to be heard.

Rob Barnett


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