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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No 6 in B minor, Op. 74, Pathétique [45:11]
Romeo and Juliet, fantasy overture [18:54]
Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra/Michel Tabachnik
rec. 8-11 June, 2010; 13-14 December 2011, Studio 4, Flagey, Brussels

Experience Classicsonline

This one’s a disappointment. The Pathétique is a bit bloated and dull, and somehow even the very fast third movement (8:34) doesn’t raise the roof. The hesitation at 5:43 doesn’t help, nor does playing which would sound great in the concert hall but is unforgivably scrappy compared to the best recordings. The Brussels Philharmonic simply doesn’t excite, or scintillate, or even sound especially interested in playing this music. Their ensemble is threatened by especially tricky or fast passages, and they don’t have a sound burnished or lustrous enough to get me through an hour of playing which lacks inspiration or fire.
“Well, no surprise there”, you might be saying, except that surprised I am. Over on the Good Music Guide discussion board, a member offered samples of 32 unidentified recordings of Debussy’s La mer in a “blind listening” game, and to everyone’s surprise, Michel Tabachnik and the Brussels Philharmonic found itself in the top five! On my own ballot it placed second behind only Abbado though two recordings eliminated by tyrannical majorities in earlier rounds, which turned out to be Karajan’s and Bernstein’s, would have trumped it. I note, however, that my colleague reviewing it here wasn't overly impressed.

So yes, crazily or not, I was expecting great things here. But this team’s La mer may have simply been an overachievement. There’s nothing whatsoever remarkable about their Tchaikovsky Sixth, and the Romeo and Juliet overture comes in at a brisker pace than many but suffers from the tiny mannered pauses in the introduction and the insensitive cor anglais solo which kicks off the love music.
The Brussels Philharmonic’s next self-released album will feature Stravinsky. Let’s hope its quality is closer to their Debussy CD’s than to this half-effort.  

Brian Reinhart 

Masterwork Index: Pathétique symphony

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