Classics Reconsidered: Mark Pullinger and David Gutman Reassess the Merits of Mariss Jansons's Chandos Recording of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No 5

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Classics Reconsidered: Mark Pullinger and David Gutman Reassess the Merits of Mariss Jansons's Chandos Recording of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No 5


Tchaikovsky

Symphony No 5

Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra / Mariss Jansons

Chandos (F) CHAN8351

With speeds fast but never breathless and with the most vivid recording yet given to this favourite symphony, this is as exciting an account as we have had since Ashkenazy's warm and sympathetic reading on Decca with the Philharmonia.

As well as Chief Conductor of the Oslo orchestra, Jansons is also the current conductor of the Leningrad Philharmonic, and nowhere does the link with Mravinsky emerge more clearly than in the finale, where he adopts a tempo very nearly as hectic as Mravinsky's on his two classic recordings. In his 1961 stereo account, unlike the earlier mono, Mravinsky made the result too breathless, where here Jansons screws up the excitement without ever making it a scramble. In the first movement he resists any temptation to linger, preferring to press the music on, and as with Ashkenazy the result sounds totally idiomatic. It has less charm, but remains a spontaneous-sounding performance. In the slow movement Jansons again prefers a steady tempo, but treats the second theme with delicate rubato and builds the climaxes steadily, not rushing his fences, building the final one even bigger than the first. Unlike Ashkenazy he does not allow himself an agogic hesitation for emphasis at the very peak, but his straightness makes for comparable power. He is not so light as Ashkenazy in the waltz but similar in his freshness, while in the finale--where it is striking that he follows Tchaikovsky's notated slowings rather than allowing extra rallentandos--the bravura of the performance finds its natural culmination.

The Oslo string ensemble is fresh and bright and superbly disciplined, while the wind soloists are generally excellent with an attractively furry-toned but not at all wobbly or whiny horn solo in the slow movement. The Chandos sound lives up to the extremely high reputation of that company, very specific and well focused.

Edward Greenfield March 1985

Mark Pullinger Cards on the table. It happens quite often that your first recording of a work is the one you return to with some affection, yet despite Mariss Jansons's Oslo Philharmonic recording of Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony being the first to grace my collection as a teenager, it wasn't a recording--or a work--I immediately fell in love with. Perhaps that's because I purchased the complete Chandos box-set rather than the individual releases and symphonies like the Fourth made a greater impact. It took Mravinsky's Fifth and--especially --Gergiev's electrifying live performance with the Vienna Philharmonic for me to become gripped. In his review, Edward Greenfield reminds us of Mariss Jansons's experience working as Evgeny Mravinsky's assistant at the Leningrad Philharmonic--but this is a very different reading, isn't it?

David Gutman It's funny you hear it that way. For me it's rather similar to the stereo Mravinsky--probably the one that I go back to the most--except that everything is a notch cooler and cleaner and of course the sound is that much more modem. The finale may be less frenzied but otherwise I hear a basically similar, 'classical' impulse behind both.

MP I'd agree about it being cooler and cleaner. There's a classical directness--an unfussiness--about the first movement. After that cloudy, fateful clarinet introduction, Jansons sets off the Allegro con anima at a purposeful pace, where Mravinsky and, in particular, Gergiev make it slightly more of a trudge.

DG Jansons even gets the clarinets to ape a flattened, specifically Soviet sonority to some degree as the music gets underway and the explosive brass later on can't have been the norm in Oslo!

Jansons certainly draws a very Russian sound from his Oslo band. I love the burnished warmth that Jansons gets from his strings, especially his cellos and basses. I reviewed him twice conducting The Queen of Spades in recent years, live with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and on disc with the Bavarian RSO, and those are still qualities he draws from, frankly, greater orchestras. …

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