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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No 1 in G minor, Op 13, “Winter Daydreams”, (1868) [43:32]
The Nutcracker Suite, Op 71a (1892) [21:37]
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Claudio Abbado
rec. 13, 15, 16 March 1991, Orchestra Hall, Chicago
Presto CD
SONY SK48056 [65:59]

This is another of Presto’s exact reissues of a currently unavailable (at least separately) CD. It is also to be had in Claudio Abbado’s complete RCA and Sony box set. I’ve long admired recordings by Abbado of Tchaikovsky Symphonies 2 “Little Russian” and 4 with the Vienna Philharmonic and the New Philharmonia on a bargain DG Originals disc. They are also in harness on an Eloquence double set (review by Colin Clarke) with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting “Winter Daydreams" and, from 1959, Ferdinand Leitner, famous for accompanying Wilhelm Kempff, with the self-same Berlin Philharmonic in “The Nutcracker Suite” Although there are numerous complete sets of Tchaikovsky symphonies and orchestral works - and I have a fair few - this single disc has comparable competition with earlier Abbado and Tilson Thomas at a similar price.

My first encounter with this work was hearing a recorded concert on BBC Radio 3 whilst driving through the edge of the Yorkshire dales; it seemed appropriate accompaniment. Many of the qualities that Tchaikovsky harnessed in the three last symphonies appear here sometimes fleetingly but there are moments when one appreciated that he did go back and hone some of the ideas. As always with Tchaikovsky the experience is enchanting most of the time. The first movement, "Dreams of a winter journey”, like his opera “Eugene Onegin” utilises Russian folk tunes. Abbado and his Chicago band are successful in bringing out their melodies. The opening conveys snow and ice very successfully and subsequent listens makes one appreciate more the qualities of this “truly Russian Symphony” as the Russian Gazette stated in 1883. As usual with Presto reissues, the original notes are retained, in this case a translation of Wolfgang Stuhr. The slow movement has all the elements of Tchaikovsky heart on the strings. This is brought out without undue sentimentality by the Chicagoans and Abbado. Inevitably one looks forward to the slow movement of my favourite Tchaikovsky work, Symphony No 5. The scherzo, on the other hand, looks back to a slightly earlier period such as Felix Mendelssohn; it was based on a Piano Sonata. How delicately the strings play their part. The finale has some of the ominous undertones that will prevail in later works and there is a build-up of tension whilst the orchestra play another folk-inspired tune before the symphony comes to a fulfilling conclusion. This work is unfamiliar to many and I cannot claim to know it very well, however it is definitely well worth hearing. If you just want this alone, this well coupled disc will be very satisfactory.

The considerable “filler” is the perpetually popular “Nutcracker"; in this case the suite. Some works are in danger of becoming devalued because of being overplayed but I can never hear this magical music without being transported into another world. I loved every moment of this performance and will certainly be repeating the process and did so for the “Chinese dance” which is totally captivating. The “Waltz of the Flowers” is a good illustration of Abbado’s apotheosis of the dance as in his very successful 1991 New Year’s Day concert in Vienna. There are countless fine recordings of this suite and of the complete ballet but this is another success for Abbado in Chicago. Once again, I’m delighted to give my attention to a disc that can otherwise be missed in a big bargain box.

This splendidly recorded disc may not be an essential reissue but giving time to listening to it will be very rewarding and will give an opportunity for “spot the composer". It is also another testimony to Abbado’s fine work in the Windy City - a harvest that is sometimes unfairly overlooked.
David R Dunsmore

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