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Pyotr TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No. 3 in D major, op. 29 ‘Polish’ [44:03]
Symphony No. 4 in F minor, op. 36 [39:42]
Symphony No. 6 in B minor, op. 74 ‘Pathétique’ [45:50]
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Vasily Petrenko
rec. 2015, Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, UK
ONYX 4162 [59.55 + 58.09]

From an early age Vasily Petrenko, born in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg), was immersed in the music of Tchaikovsky, as the works of the great composer were a major part of repertoire in the Soviet Union. As its chief conductor, the charismatic Petrenko has been striving to bring an authentic Russian character to the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra by cultivating a rich, robust and round orchestral sound, with clear emphasis on improving string and brass quality.

On Onyx, this second volume, comprising the Third, Fourth and Sixth Symphonies, completes Vasily Petrenko’s Tchaikovsky symphonic cycle. The works were recorded in 2015 at Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool under studio conditions, with the engineering team providing clarity, detail and satisfying balance.

Throughout, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under Petrenko demonstrates its mature understanding for the writing, with one sensing that every single note counts. Conspicuous is how Petrenko consistently shapes the orchestral sound, with dynamics and weight carefully balanced so that the admirable brass remain striking but never swamp the warm string sound. A match for the finest in the country, the woodwind section excels from the first note to the last.
A relatively neglected score, the Symphony No. 3Polish’ could be described as a Cinderella work which Petrenko recognises is challenging to pull off. Particularly successful is the weighty and nostalgic central movement Andante elegiaco flanked by scherzos. In duple time, the challenging second of the two scherzi is played with real accomplishment. Noticeable is how Petrenko finds a distinctly jubilant character to the spirited final movement Allegro con fuoco (Tempo di Polacca).

The Fourth Symphony was written at a particularly crucial point in Tchaikovsky’s life. It was not only the year of his disastrous marriage but also the year in which he began a fifteen-year correspondence with his patroness Nadezhda von Meck. The striking aspect of this performance is the remarkable sense of engagement from Petrenko and his players. It’s a bold and assertive reading with an authentic feeling of spontaneity. Especially affecting, the Andantino is steeped in a yearning sense of reflection, and the Finale is given a colourful reading, so electrifyingly dramatic.

Universally known as the ‘Pathétique’, the Sixth Symphony is Tchaikovsky most deeply moving and profound work, an enduring masterwork which he considered to be his greatest composition. The première took place in 1893 in St. Petersburg, and just eight days later the composer was dead. Few musical farewells are more poignant. Under Petrenko, the emotional turmoil feels highly charged, without any suggestion of sentimentality. Highly assured, this is a vigorously intense performance which holds the attention and shows a level of commitment rarely encountered yet perceptively controlled. Remarkable is the massive opening movement Adagio that combines menacing sombreness with unremitting emotional pain. Outstanding too is Petrenko’s Finale, a weighty maelstrom of searing emotions which makes a powerfully dramatic impact.

Michael Cookson
Previous review: Simon Thompson



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