The program note to this release is both brief and inaccurate,
so here's some more detailed background information, gleaned
from Max de Schauensee's liner-note to Columbia MS 6349, the
U.S. LP issue of Ormandy's recording of the "Seventh Symphony."
In 1892, Tchaikovsky began sketching a symphony - it would have
been his sixth - but gave it up by the end of that year, claiming,
"... the symphony was written just for the sake of writing
something, and contains nothing interesting or appealing."
He did, however, reuse some of the material for a planned three-movement
piano concerto, eventually boiling it down to what we know as
the single-movement Third Piano Concerto, Op. 75. After the
composer's death, Sergei Taneyev orchestrated the remaining
two movements, which stand as a separate composition - the Andante
and Finale, Op. 79 - in Tchaikovsky's catalogue.
The Soviet composer Semyon Bogatyryov - transliterated in other
sources as "Bogatyryev" - undertook to reconstruct
this abandoned symphony, using Tchaikovsky's completed score
of the first half of the first movement and his rough sketches
for the rest of the work, and consulting the three extant concertante
movements. He also had to come up with a scherzo from somewhere,
but his choice, from the Op. 72 piano pieces, is poor: neither
the scherzo proper, with its tootling woodwinds, nor the jarringly
Romantic trio sounds like any of the composer's other comparable
movements - not a compliment, under the circumstances. The finale,
in fairness, works better as a concertante piece; here,
it's noisy and empty-headed. The toy-march second subject, a
catchy enough tune at first hearing, becomes merely vulgar when
inflated into the movement's climactic peroration.
Besides the interpolated scherzo, some of Bogatyryov's other
reconstructions must be deemed strictly conjectural. Extended
piano passages had to be plugged into other instruments, not
always effectively: virtuoso figurations rarely translate well
to the orchestra. Cadenzas - such as the long one of Op. 75,
which bridges back to the recapitulation - needed completely
to be replaced with other material. The extent of Bogatyryov's
own original contributions in such passages remains unclear.
At first, Sergei Skripka seems on track to outpoint even the
estimable Ormandy, whose capable, polished presentation carries
a whiff of Tchaikovsky-by-the-numbers routine. He digs deeper
into the first movement, shaping the phrases with purpose, bringing
out string tremolos and other interesting detail, and - abetted
by heavy hands at the mixing board - exploiting a richer variety
of wind colors. He even whips up real excitement in that last
cobbled-together bit of the development. On the debit side,
coordination is iffy in transitional passages, whether accelerating
or slowing - a sign of control problems that become an increasing
liability as the performance progresses.
The Andante begins well, with a heartfelt statement of
the opening theme. The conspicuous più mosso for the
central section isn't a bad idea, but it begins tentatively,
with blurred scansion. At the climax at 5:09, the melody in
the inner voices doesn't cut through the texture. The scherzo
goes well enough, despite some rough moments, but the Finale
is a dead loss. The fragments of themes in the development never
coalesce and the trombone fumbles the entry at 6:12, finishing
the transitional phrase after the peroration begins.
The cautiously played coda sounds even more of a jumble than
it does at Ormandy's faster pace, which more effectively hides
The Serenade for Strings begins with a smear rather than
a clean attack, which doesn't bode well. The best parts of the
performance, such as the 6/8 rhythms of the first movement,
are buoyant, but much of the playing, both here and in the pretty
but aimless Elegy, is oddly subdued and reined-in. There's
bits of scraggly and even inaccurate passagework, and the first
violins' "answering" phrase at 3:43 of the third-movement
Élegie is missing in action. There's no challenge here
to the cultivated accounts of Leppard or Colin Davis (both Philips),
or even the sometimes indiscreet Barenboim (EMI).
Stephen Francis Vasta
Stephen Francis Vasta is a New York-based conductor, coach, and journalist.