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CD Review

Piotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky

Deutsche Grammophon Eloquence 4826176
  • Marche Slav in B Flat Major, Op. 31 1
  • Symphony #5 in E minor, Op. 64 2
  • Symphony #3 in D Major "Polish", Op. 29 3
  • Suite "The Sleeping Beauty", p. 66a 4
  • Suite "Swan Lake", Op. 20 4
1Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Ferdinand Leitner
2London Symphony Orchestra/Claudio Abbado
3Vienna Symphony/Mosche Atzmon
4Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra/Witold Rowicki
Deutsche Grammophon Eloquence 4826176 2CDs
Find it at AmazonFind it at Amazon UKFind it at Amazon GermanyFind it at Amazon CanadaFind it at Amazon FranceFind it at Amazon Japan

The prize item here for collectors within Australian Eloquence's hodgepodge of a Tchaikovsky cycle is the first release on CD of Mosche Atzmon's "Polish" Symphony with the Vienna Symphony. Deutsche Grammophon had limited success with the Vienna Symphony, producing scrappy and disengaged recordings under both Karajan and Fricsay. However, although most of us can agree that – then and now – the city's Philharmonic was the superior orchestra, under the right conditions it could still play magnificently. Giulini was one conductor who could marshal these forces, and apparently Mosche Atzmon was another. Along with the Abbado Fifth, this second entry of the cycle builds upon the excellence of the first.

Frankly, the "Polish" is my least favorite of the Tchaikovsky canon, and I'm including "Manfred" in that discussion. Despite typically beautiful writing, I find the work short on both tunes and pathos. Nevertheless, this rare recording argues the piece effectively. I find the woodwind playing to be lovely, and Atzmon coaxes unusual polish from these strings. Fleet tempos and a steady hand minimizes the dead spots and brings out the melodies. The finale strikes me as somewhat droopy, but I'm inclined to blame the composer for that problem. The fillers on the first disc are a dull Marche Slav under the ever-boring Ferdinand Leitner, and a better – but slightly shaky Sleeping Beauty suite.

Abbado dominates the second disc with the first of his Tchaikovsky Fifths. The Complete Sony and RCA recordings holds two others. Some writers have incorrectly stated that his Chicago Fifth (Sony again) was the first, but this 1972 London version comes first, and has been on disc before. Whether it was ever available here in the United States is a very different question, but I'm happy to have it. Abbado's Fourth is probably the finest of his early Tchaikovsky recordings, but this is also quite good. Abbado still fusses with the rhythms and dynamics in a way that doesn't help this occasionally clunky symphony, but overall there's much to enjoy. Following the London Symphony in peak form is never easy, and the Warsaw National Philharmonic under Rowicki fails to impress on a technical level for Swan Lake. The underrated maestro does extract color and brilliance from the ballet, but Rostropovich (also on Deutsche Grammophon) is superior in every way leading the Berlin Philharmonic. Ultimately, the three volumes of Tchaikovsky show the label's (then) young conductors in the best possible light. Despite less desirable fillers for short pieces, collectors will likely want all three entries,

Copyright © 2017, Brian Wigman

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