Tuesday, November 06, 2007

CD REVIEW: Tchaikovsky Sumphony No. 6 "Pathetique"

Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra - Tchaikovsky's Pathétique (Telarc)
UK release date: 23 October 2007


This is an admirable recording of two of Tchaikovsky's undisputed orchestral masterpieces from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. As the Finale of the Sixth Symphony drifted solemnly away, I was an emotional wreck.
Paavo Järvi draws from his orchestra dark, brooding textures at the opening of Tchaikovsky's Pathétique (a name that the composer would have removed, and one that has stuck to the work like a limpet). The doleful bassoon melody is given time, yet it seems jumpy and tense, every pause pregnant with anticipation. The statement of the 'proper' first theme arrives unexpectedly and intrusively, with pinpoint, perky and adolescent dialogues between woodwind and strings.
The famed second theme, that great rising fall of a melody, is sumptuously rendered, with lush, luxurious string tone and a pleasing bloom to the bass sound (but then the whole disc is recorded in gorgeous clarity); it is hard not to be dragged into the development section's fizzing violence or into the tragic fulfilment of the concluding descending scalic pizzicati.
Likewise, it is difficult not to feel implicated in the Allegro con grazia's daintily swinging syncopations and delicacy of ensemble, or the Allegro molto vivace's bubbling virtuosity, with its chuckling brass, fiery strings and twirling, swirling woodwind. I do sense, at the latter movement's conclusion, a deliberate sense of weariness: a sense that the music's overstated bombast has caused inner-collapse and reduced the final bars to empty rhetoric. It's an effective means by which to prepare us for the anguished Requiem of the Finale, which itself here is sweeping, horrified and tragic, beautifully detailed.
The opening performance of the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture is equally effective and for the same reasons: the sound is luxurious, the playing is technically outstanding and Järvi moulds the score expressively and sincerely. The opening, once again dark and brooding, is brushed ironically with the brightness of the flute and the glistening of the harp glissandi; the orchestra introduce a sense of lugubrious, tired forward motion into their playing; the popular love theme boasts a hymn-like quality; after the 'suicidal' passage, the timpani's triplet figures prolong the drama with harrowing unease. But then this is a CD that grabs you and does not let go. Ever.
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Dave Paxton

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