Siegfried Kurz's performance of the Tchaikovsky Fifth is refreshing.
He unfolds the music naturally, allowing the great melodies
to flow and breathe, with a clear-eyed dignity that avoids the
over-the-top bathos favored in some quarters. Kurz avoids the
dramatic tempo adjustments favored by "tradition,"
maintaining direct rhythmic address even at softer dynamics.
Firmly grounded rhythms, of the sort one expects from German
musicians, benefit the Finale, where the driving main Allegro
vivace is sufficiently weighted that it's not a mad rush.
But Kurz also knows the value of contrast - lightening the textures,
for example, as the tempo of the Andante cantabile picks
up, beginning at 2:08.
After a moody but unportentous introduction - where, admittedly,
the two clarinets don't immediately settle on their unison tuning
- the first movement treads steadily, with the marziale
element predominating. The contrasting themes are given room
to expand, but there's no slamming on of the brakes for the
third group, at 5:26 and 11:26. Kurz similarly doesn't telegraph
the climaxes of the Andante with ham-fisted, grandiose
set-ups: the motto theme's second intrusion, at 10:17, is the
more effective for its abruptness. The waltz is poised, yearning
but unclouded; the scurrying central section is crisp and energetic,
the motto's brief return chipper rather than disturbing. The
Finale begins as a solemn, affirmative anthem. We hear more
detail than usual in the body of the movement, and only a few
small ritards nod to convention, so that, in the triumphal coda,
the slight rhetorical broadening at 10:38 registers as a major
The Staatskapelle Dresden plays handsomely, with the blended,
homogeneous string sonority that is its hallmark - listen to
the vibrant low chords at the Andante's start - but there's
enough rhythmic point and variety of articulation to enliven
the cushiony sound, thus avoiding the textural bloat of Masur's
Leipzig account (Teldec/Warner).. Save for the clarinet problem
cited earlier, the woodwinds are good - especially the lustrous
solo oboe - and mostly come across clearly, though they don't
stand out against the strings as they do in more conspicuously
"engineered" productions. The recorded sound is fine,
conveying a concert-hall overhang without obscuring detail or
blunting the textural contours. The low strings are present
and focused, with a nice burr on the attacks.
I enjoyed this unlikely performance far more than many higher-profiled
editions; in its unmannered musicality, it's comparable to the
lean, terse Markevitch account (Philips) or Cantelli's rigorous
yet lyrical one (Music & Arts). If you prefer old-fashioned
glamour, Ormandy's Philadelphians serve it up nicely, in a straightforward
reading; the Sony version is more cohesive than the RCA remake,
which is, in turn, better than the very late Delos. Since Berlin
Classics CDs generally sell more or less at mid-price, I assumed
their "Reference" series might be a budget line; this
would mitigate the stingy program, presenting the symphony alone
on the disc. However, it is also mid-price.
Stephen Francis Vasta