Magazine article Gramophone

Mark Pullinger and David Gutman Revisit Mravinsky's Extraordinary 1960 DG Stereo Recording of Tchaikovsky's 'Pathetique' with the Leningrad Philharmonic Originally Panned in Gramophone

Magazine article Gramophone

Mark Pullinger and David Gutman Revisit Mravinsky's Extraordinary 1960 DG Stereo Recording of Tchaikovsky's 'Pathetique' with the Leningrad Philharmonic Originally Panned in Gramophone

Article excerpt


Symphony No 6, 'Pathetique'

Leningrad PO / Yevgeny Mravinsky

DG [G] (2) 477 5911 (originally SLPM138659)

This is no more than an imitation, almost a caricature, of the superlative account of this symphony by the same artists that I have loved and enjoyed for nearly five years now. I have rarely undertaken so depressing a detailed comparison, one which confirmed at every point what I had already felt during the initial hearing. This is still a fine performance, make no mistake about that, but for a recorded Pathetique that is no longer enough. The special quality which made Mravinsky's earlier account of the work so peculiarly exciting was the feeling throughout of edge-of-the-seat spontaneity, the players themselves wild with excitement. Compare the great thunderclap moment in the first movement (bar 171) and the exciting Allegro vivo passage which follows. Not only is the dynamic contrast less, the whole passage has much less musical impact when there is no sense of expectancy beforehand as the pianissimo clarinet solo gets lower and dissolves into four bassoon notes and then afterwards the allegro seems too feverishly fast instead of having a genuine urgency.

In the second movement, the speed is faster than before and the unmarked slowing for the trio more extreme; in the finale the absence of tension is more marked than ever. I never dreamed to hear from these players so dry-eyed an account.

Those who want a stereo version I urgently ask to hear the Giulini, as exciting a performance as I know, yet one which shows that there is charm and indeed dignity in the work as well as full-blooded emotion. Edward Greenfield (11/61)

Mark Pullinger Mravinsky's stereo recording of the Pathetique Symphony with the Leningrad Philharmonic has been a cornerstone of my Tchaikovsky collection since I was a teenager; a blistering account in wide stereo sound, taped in the exotic wilds of Wembley Town Hall, London, in November 1960. I've heard nothing to equal it--recorded or live--since. Therefore, discovering Ted Greenfield's biting Gramophone review was a shock. He found it 'an imitation, almost a caricature' of Mravinsky's earlier (mono) recording. Was his assessment right? Have I been naive in revering this account for so long?

David Gutman EC's early contributions to the mag do tend to belie his avuncular image --this was, after all, the daily critic whose negative review gets cited as the reason Carlos Kleiber never returned to the LSO. I can see what he meant about Mravinsky's Pathetique, though I think he goes much too far. I'd attribute many of his reservations to the rather weird sonics because they bother me too. They're now saying that Mravinsky's stereo versions of the last three Tchaikovsky symphonies were started in London and finished in Vienna, but there's no trace of a real acoustic. Everything is very 'in your face' as well as separated out (though not, I think, the violins), and if sessions for No 6 really did take place in the Musikverein, you'd never know it.

MP From Wembley to Wien! I suppose Deutsche Grammophon was trying to highlight the benefits of stereo with the wide definition. This brings certain advantages: I love how much double bass detail emerges, for instance. After the explosive allegro vivo outburst in the first movement (rehearsal marks G to H), the basses tear into the score, truly meeting Tchaikovsky's/eroce instruction. The recording captures their agitated bass-line in the build-up to the march, while they come into their own in the harrowing closing bars.

Yes, it's 'in your face', but this, for me, serves Mravinsky's vision: a no-holds-barred account, reaching near hysteria.

DG The recording emphasises even more the intensely Russian or Soviet-Russian quality of the wind and brass! Once heard, never forgotten, and thrilling in its way, but you can see why EG might have felt uneasy. …

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