This completes Kitajenko's cycle of the seven standard Tchaikovsky symphonies, including Manfred. According to his website he is planning to add the so called '7th' symphony in 2014. This is the reconstruction by Russian musicologist Semyon Bogatyrev which uses Tchaikovsky's own abandoned sketches. That will be interesting since it is so rarely done (see review).
Though I have not heard all of Kitajenko's Tchaikovsky recordings, this present issue fits the approach he has taken in 1, 6 and Manfred (see review) of adopting broader - read 'slower' - tempi than most but being prepared to use considerable rubato as required. A conductor of his pedigree, Russian born and trained, fourteen years with the Moscow Philharmonic must know this music extremely well and any interpretive decisions he takes must be respected. Additionally, he uses the magnificent Gürzenich Orchestra of Cologne who must rank among the finest in the world, and whose recordings of Shostakovich have graced my shelves for several years.
The present recording shares two characteristics encountered in the Shostakovich cycle, the most important being superb though slightly distant sound, and the second a tendency for the rear channels to be tiny tad over-present. For example the opening brass statement of the 4th splashes around a bit. Oehms doubtless uses many microphones but the mix gives more of an orchestral panorama than it gives detail. Nevertheless all details are present. The triangle can just be heard, as would be the case in a live concert. The dynamic range is wide as befits Tchaikovsky's large-scale masterpiece.
The opening of the 4th Symphony is broad and very impressive. Fate is going to rule this performance for sure. The moderato con anima section that follows has plenty of anima and serves as a dramatic first contrast in a vast and complex first movement that runs to well over 19 minutes, which is, incidentally, only a minute slower than Mravinsky in 1961. This is large scale Tchaikovsky and sounds really epic. With Kitajenko's usual penchant for rubato it works very well. The big climaxes often involve an increase in tempo which drives the drama forward. His detailed attention to the dynamics in the coda round off this first movement most effectively. Jurgen Ostmann's notes are mostly a reprint of Tchaikovsky's own programme for Nadezhda von Meck and does not add anything much beyond a short background. It would have been good to have something by way of analysis of the structure, especially of this first movement, one of Tchaikovsky's finest creations.
The andantino is also taken more slowly than is the norm but when you have such a fine orchestra you can gain much by drawing out Tchaikovsky's wonderful sonorities. The pizzicato Scherzo is likewise beautifully moulded and never becomes a mere exercise in orchestral skill. The breadth of tempi thus far make the allegro con fuoco opening of the Finale all the more dramatic and at last we hear the full impact of Tchaikovsky's orchestra with percussion. This last movement never sounds like a patchwork and with a very fiery ending it leaves the listener most satisfied. It is worth noting however that Mravinsky leaves one utterly exhausted. If you do not own that DG Original you owe it to yourself to obtain it. This present disc is top class too and well worth the purchase price.
The Capriccio Italien is given a very slow opening, slow to the point of portentous, which seems to me too much for a work which is supposed to be a fantasy on Italian folk tunes. The transition to the first folk tune after the introduction seems almost bathetic because it is so much less grand than what has gone before. Overall this performance works because of the wonderful orchestra and lovely sound; as an interpretation I found it overblown. There's a 'but', a big 'but': if this were played in a concert hall it would bring the audience to its feet I am sure because this conductor knows what he can get away with. On checking other recordings in my collection I was surprised to discover that, whilst he was over two minutes longer than many prestigious maestros, Kitajenko was very close to, of all people, Constantin Silvestri, who was famous for his Tchaikovsky back in the 1960s.
Masterwork Index: Tchaikovsky symphony 4