Magazine article Gramophone

Tchaikovsky Memories: Eloquence Mine the DG and Decca Catalogues and Unearth Some Tchaikovskian Treasures: Rob Cowan's Monthly Survey of Historic Reissues and Archive Recordings

Magazine article Gramophone

Tchaikovsky Memories: Eloquence Mine the DG and Decca Catalogues and Unearth Some Tchaikovskian Treasures: Rob Cowan's Monthly Survey of Historic Reissues and Archive Recordings

Article excerpt

It's easy to forget that DG's trawl of Tchaikovsky symphony recordings in the 1960s and '70s runs beyond Mravinsky in the last three and Karajan's only complete 'numbered' cycle (with the Berlin Philharmonic). Australian Eloquence has fitted roughly contemporaneous versions of all six symphonies plus Manfred and some interesting extras into a sequence of three generously filled double-packs, most (though not all) of the material having previously appeared on CD. Michael Tilson Thomas's 1970 Boston Symphony account of the First (Winter Daydreams) Symphony is an undoubted highlight, being both elegant and vivacious, the playing for the most part superb. Claudio Abbado makes a dramatic case for the Second (Little Russian) with the New Philharmonia (1968), the timps especially well focused by DG's engineers. Abbado's VPO Fourth (1975) leaves a more forceful impression than his Chicago re-make (Sony Classical), though I still love the American orchestra's refined sound. Following the symphony comes a chipper Nutcracker Suite featuring the BPO under Ferdinand Leitner (1959), a fine-tooled performance with a sound surprisingly good for its age.

Moshe Atzmon and the Vienna Symphony in 1973 seem very much in sympathy with the spirit of No 3 (Polish) where lyrical lines predominate, understanding the work's balletic ground-springs. Abbado's LSO Fifth (1970) is impassioned without overheating; Leitner and the BPO offer a well-paced Marche Slave but perhaps the most charismatic performances on this particular set come from Witold Rowicki and the Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra in 1959 recordings of suites from The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake. The latter's 'scene' ('Pas de Deux') features a beautiful albeit un-credited violin solo; the opening's oboe solo is taken very broadly and my only disappointment is that the finale stops short of its thrilling peroration.

Abbado's VPO Pathetique (1973) is at its best in the first movement, especially the fleetly drawn development section. Also compelling is his Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture, a 1971 Boston Symphony recording, and Leitner's Capriccio italien which conforms to the well-played and highly-ordered pattern already established with his other performances. Yuri Ahronovitch's 1977 account of the Manfred Symphony with the London Symphony Orchestra, however, is at times unfocused, and in any case hampered by rather hollow sound, though the transposition of the organ loft to Watford Coliseum from Munich's Herkulessaal (the organ part was recorded a month or so later) at least grants the sound a spot of added presence. On the positive side, the bulk of the finale has rarely revealed its Lisztian roots as vividly as here, and much of the quieter music is movingly played.

Eloquence's first CD release of a little known version of Tchaikovsky's Francesca da Rimini reminds me how Decca's engineers, Silvio Varviso and the Suisse Romande Orchestra made a beeline for the score's brass and percussion writing (horns, cymbals and tam-tam especially) and how Varviso's relatively straightforward handling of the score underlines its many strengths. Borodin's Second Symphony is granted equally unfussy reportage, the overall approach pleasingly energetic if hardly the last word in precision. This is Victoria Hall sound at its best and Walter Weller's LPO account of Rachmaninov's brooding tone poem The Rock (1974) makes for an attractive bonus.

While Eloquence bolsters Varviso's original LP programme, Pristine effects a swap for an August 1962 Edinburgh Festival programme by the LSO under Igor Markevitch. As released by BBC Legends some years ago (BBCL4053-2), the sequence consisted of Tchaikovsky's Francesca da Rimini, Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, and a group of Mussorgsky songs with Galina Vishnevskaya. The original programme also included wonderful performances by Vishnevskaya of the arias 'I could see from my window' and 'I know a lake in the forest' from Shostakovich's opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, and Pristine has wisely dropped the Tchaikovsky (which in any case includes a couple of small but senseless cuts) and replaced it with the Shostakovich arias. …

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