Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
The Unknown Tchaikovsky
Symphony of Life (No.7) (1891-92) (reconstructed Semyon Bogatyryev, 1955)) [35:41]
Elegy for strings in Memory of Ivan Samarin (1884) [7:36]
Overture in C minor (1865-66) [13:48]
Overture in F major (1865) [13:19]
Russian State Cinematographic Orchestra/Sergei Skripka
rec. Moscow, 1987, DDD
If it's Tchaikovsky it has to be passionate, stormy even, and melodious. So it is with these rarities, even if one of them came to fruition through the midwifery and reconstructive surgery of Semyon Bogatyryev (1890-1960). The resulting Seventh Symphony has been recorded before. I did not recognise it under the title Symphony of Life which seems to have been backwards-engineered from a Tchaikovsky quote given in the booklet. The other recordings of the work are by: Paul Freeman and the Moscow Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra on Hallmark Classics 35078-2 in 1992; by Leo Ginsburg and the USSR State SO on Melodiya S 0375-6 (LP) in 1962; by Neeme Jšrvi and the LPO on Chandos CHAN 9130 in 1994; and by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia in 1962 now on CBS Masterworks Portrait MKP 46453 issued in 1990. The Ormandy version first came out in 1962 on LP on CBS SBRG72042.
Is the Seventh a flat libation rather like another revival, Finzi's Violin Concerto, or is it something more? While no blazing monument it has quite a lot of first order Tchaikovsky. It is certainly better than some of the early tone poems such as Voyevode or The Tempest which are at least all-Tchaikovsky. That said, it is one of those works that might more likely provoke warm affection rather than enduring memory.
The first movement is tempestuous yet flecked with balletic becalmings in the manner of its symphonic predecessor, the Fifth. Its material comes from the same seam as the Third Piano Concerto. There is a very smooth second movement that sings in the manner of the slow movement of the Fourth Symphony. The third movement is all frenzied clarinet flutter and pizzicato. Itís also somewhat eldritch in the sinister supernatural manner of Swan Lake and Nutcracker. Thereís some very fresh and imaginative writing here as a long and lunging melody unfolds. The finale is lively, dance-like and joyous with some stirringly brayed-out brass.
The little Elegy is soothing rather than piercing. The style is gently poignant rather like Elgarís Serenade although at 3.07 stronger feelings emerge and throb with the force of a velvet clad hammer. Other parallels include the touching moments in Prokofievís music for Onegin and the string writing in Griegís Last Spring. If only Beecham had known about this Elegy it would have become one of his lollipops.
The present recordings of the Symphony and of the Samarin Elegy are also on DOM Talent (review)
Lastly we hear two rare concert overtures from the 1860s.
The C minor has some thunderously shattering brass desk barks. These are delivered with devastating split-second discipline. Itís an early pre-echo of Romeo and Juliet. Along the way we encounter a strolling piacevole and a nervy anxious scherzo dotted with Sibelian woodwind. The recording and the Russian artists deliver a great range of dynamics. The piece ends in a whirlwind of blaring and heaven-scouring Soviet brass. Excellent.
The F major is fresh and theatrical - noticeably distinct from its companion overture. The whole is very nicely paced. At 7:50 the obstreperous brass loudly stomp out a Russian folk dance. After some very appealing sighing violins (8.45) the overture ends with clarion stridency.
Sergei Skripka keeps things on course and taut throughout. Nothing sounds routine.
Inveterate Tchaikovskians must have this disc. Everything here is rare and well worth adding to your collection. It provides a neatly complementary addendum to the 60CD Brilliant Classics Tchaikovsky set.

The good notes by James Murray are well up to his usual high standard.
  Rob Barnett
If it's Tchaikovsky it has to be passionate, stormy even, and melodious. So it is with these rarities.