Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74 [43:04]
Romeo and Juliet, Fantasy Overture (1880 version) [19:16]
Swedish Chamber Orchestra/Thomas Dausgaard
rec. September 2011, Örebro Concert Hall, Sweden
BIS BIS-SACD-1959 [62:20] 

This is really well-conducted and well-played and well-recorded, but I don’t know how strongly I can recommend it. Tchaikovsky’s last symphony, played by a chamber orchestra, sounds too small.
Everyone involved puts in a superb effort. Thomas Dausgaard furnishes an appropriate reading, fast and sprightly. The first movement is imbued with balletic grace along with its tragedy. There’s a rare spring in Dausgaard’s step, and the lightness of his interpretation comes close to masking the lightness of the orchestral sound. The Swedish Chamber Orchestra is one of my favorite ensembles right now - I especially love their Beethoven with Dausgaard on Simax - and their soloists can be proud of their work here.
It’s just that the band is too small. The opening of the ‘allegro con grazia’ reveals that the cellos aren’t numerous enough to deliver the melody with its needed richness. At climaxes like 2:20 the tiny size of the string section becomes sadly apparent. One knows that, with a few more players, the sonic allure would be much higher. The big climaxes everywhere, especially in the march, are simply underpowered.
What makes matters worse is that a similar account exists with a full orchestra, and it’s astonishing. Daniele Gatti and the Royal Philharmonic show similar timings in the first three movements, though Gatti takes much longer to get through the finale; if you leave off the finale, Dausgaard is just seven seconds faster. Gatti, too, brings a sense of Tchaikovsky the ballet composer to the first two movements, and he also is breathtakingly fast in the march. The Royal Philharmonic is simply beefier: their strings are more luxurious, their brass more imposing, their timpani a more prominent part of the sound picture. Starting at about 5:30, the ‘molto vivace’ from Sweden sounds ragged; it’s frankly saddening to hear. Go to Gatti, or choose Mravinsky over both, but you knew that already.
It’s too bad, really. I like what BIS has done with the recorded sound. I’ve heard details in the double bass I certainly never heard on any other disc; on the other hand the bass drum sounds like someone thumping a suitcase. I love Thomas Dausgaard’s work and his interpretation here is exactly what is called for. I love the no-nonsense treatment of the Romeo and Juliet overture, which does not sound hackneyed here. I love the playing of the members of the Swedish Chamber Orchestra. I just wish there had been more of them.
Brian Reinhart 

Alas. I love Thomas Dausgaard’s conducting, and I like the orchestra’s playing, but a chamber orchestra sounds rather saddening in this music. 

Masterwork Index: Tchaikovsky 6

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