Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
A Symphony of Life ("No. 7," arr Bogatyryov) (1892) [35:11]
Elegy in Memory of Samarin for Strings (1884) [7:34]
Serenade for String Orchestra, Op. 48 (1880) [29:22]
Moscow Symphony Orchestra/Sergei Skripka
rec. Moscow Broadcast Concert Hall. No date supplied
CLASSIC TALENT DOM 2910 83 [73:19]
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 seams.
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
Control problems become an increasing liability as things progress.
Stephen Francis Vasta is a New York-based conductor, coach, and journalist.