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CD Review

Piotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky

DGG 4826184
  • Capriccio italien, Op. 45 1
  • Fantasy Overture in B minor "Roméo & Juliet" 2
  • Symphony in B minor "Manfred", Op. 58 3
  • Symphony #6 in B minor "Pathétique", Op. 74 4
1 Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Ferdinand Leitner
2 Boston Symphony Orchestra/Claudio Abbado
3 London Symphony Orchestra/Yuri Ahronovitch
4 Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Claudio Abbado
Deutsche Grammopho Eloquence (Australia) 4826184 2CDs

There is a little town about an hour north of where I live called Frankenmuth, and they serve excellent family-style chicken dinners. The chicken alone is worth the trip. However, as the years have passed, the famous side dishes have not aged as well, and the mashed potatoes are particularly suspect. This set reminds me a lot of those dinners, in that the entrees are very fine, but the fillers aren't quite worth the calories. I imagine our continental and Australian friends will be appalled by the metaphor, but that chicken is good. Eloquence's Tchaikovsky cycle concludes with a similarly satisfying entry.

Abbado's pairing of the Symphony #6 and the Fantasy Overture have already appeared on Eloquence, and some collectors may have used Buywell or Amazon.UK to get it. The Symphony features typically beautiful playing from the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, and Abbado also conducts with a sure hand. Compared to his labelmates Bernstein and Fricsay, he's a little short on pathos. On the other hand, compared to those two, he's also more suited for everyday listening. Whether that's what you want in your "Pathétique" is going to be up to you, but this is lovely. The sound is also warm and fits the polished feel of the orchestra. Unfortunately, Roméo & Juliet receives a somewhat pedestrian reading that fails to match Abbado's best work in Boston.

The "Manfred" Symphony has not achieved the same popularity as the composer's other large orchestral works, and suffers from a reputation for being both difficult to play and a lack of musical cogency. I happen to enjoy when it's played with commitment and unapologetic flair, and for whatever reason only British orchestras seem to record it successfully. There are others around the world worth hearing, but the UK has the best overall showing. The Philharmonia and London Philharmonic Orchestra have been especially lucky, but this 1977 rendition under Ahronovitch with the London Symphony also deserves your attention. The orchestra plays exceptionally well. Ahronovitch doesn't monkey around with the work in any way that's truly distinctive, but he does draw an appreciable richness from his ensemble. What's more, he brings out plenty of detail in the score that others miss. Where he falls just short is a failure (in my view) to argue the finale tightly enough. Also, fine as the London Symphony is, the rival orchestras mentioned above are just that much more virtuosic.

The package also holds the Capriccio italien, which is given a workday run-through from Leitner and the Berlin Philhamonic. Never the most thrilling of conductors, Leitner is blessed with fine first-desk solos and polished playing, but little more. I suppose it's nice to hear the orchestra before Karajan dominated the next few decades, but a stronger musical personality might have been welcome. All told, there are enough generous recordings here to warrant a confident purchase, especially if you've been waiting for the Abbado and Ahronovitch.

Copyright © 2017, Brian Wigman

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