Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No. 4 [43:17]
Symphony No. 5 [41:30]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Vladimir Jurowski
rec. live. Royal Festival Hall, 19 March (No. 4) and 4 May (No. 5) 2011
LPO LIVE LPO-0064 [43:17 + 41:30]
Partnered with his own orchestra, you’d expect to find Vladimir Jurowski completely happy with this core Russian repertoire. In the event I found these performances rather flat and uninteresting. No. 4 benefits from very good playing but, for me at any rate, rather bland direction. The LPO strings are full and authoritative, the brass clear and unforced, and the winds perky and distinctive; but Jurowski’s direction feels as though it has been telephoned in. The brass fanfare at the opening doesn’t pin you to the back of your seat in the way that you would hope, and the main theme of the first movement just “happens” without conveying the pain and stress that it should. Even as it rises to its climax at the first movement’s coda, it feels routine and lacks excitement, certainly when put next to the likes of Jansons or Abbado. Likewise, I didn’t feel any sense of depth in the Andantino. This slow movement needs to convey something soulful and deeply Russian, particularly in the string playing, but I sensed an almost complete lack of empathy in the LPO strings. To be fair to them, they play the notes very capably, but they lack direction and, thus, they lack emotional impact. The Scherzo has a healthy dose of humour to it, and the perky winds display a good dose of Slavonic cheek, the only time the symphony sounds genuinely Russian. Even into the finale, however, Jurowski seems to keep his players on the leash until the coda when he lets them off and, to be fair, the results are exciting when they come, perhaps all the more valuable because so looked for. It’s a solid enough performance of Tchaikovsky 4, but much less interesting than we have the right to expect from someone of Jurowski’s standing and reputation, especially when you compare his recording with established greats like Abbado, Jansons or Gergiev.
The Fifth is better, but still not remarkable. For one thing, the string tone is richer and more evocative, lending some much needed feeling to the first movement’s second subject, and they sound fantastic when the fate theme is transformed at the opening of the finale. Jurowski’s choice of tempi seems more apposite too, the first movement moving forward with drama and urgency. This is a double-edged sword in the slow movement, though: the faster tempo injects more drama into the tutti passages but doesn’t give the gorgeous horn theme enough space to breathe or to evolve naturally. The pacing of the waltz is just right, however, as is most of the finale, though the brass don’t come across particularly well here, with the edge taken off the fanfares that punctuate the finale’s action, perhaps a consequence of the recording.
The engineers retain applause at the end of the Fifth, but not the Fourth. These performances may have been greeted with enthusiasm in the RFH, but for me they don’t stand up to repeated listening on record. Go to Jansons or Gergiev to really tap into some Slavonic fire.

Simon Thompson
These don’t stand up to repeated listening on record. 

Masterwork Index: Tchaikovsky 4 ~~ Tchaikovsky 5