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Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4 - Pletnev

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4 - Pletnev

PentaTone Classics  PTC 5186384

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4 in F minor Op. 36, Overture "Romeo & Juliet"

Russian National Orchestra
Mikhail Pletnev (conductor)

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Review by Graham Williams - March 8, 2011

This recording marks the start of a new complete Tchaikovsky symphony cycle for PentaTone from Mikail Pletnev and the RNO, and it is to be hoped that the ‘Manfred’ Symphony will also be eventually included in the sessions, as it was the one highlight of Pletnev’s earlier uneven cycle for DGG that appeared back in 1996.

The finest aspect of this first release is undoubtedly its sound quality. Erdo Groot and his Polyhymnia colleagues have achieved an outstandingly warm, rich and detailed sound in both the symphony and the Romeo and Juliet Overture that I have yet to hear bettered in any alternative recordings of these works. Partly this is due to the Pletnev’s seating of the orchestra (violins placed left and right of the conductor etc.) that allows the inner instrumental lines of both pieces to become audible in a way seldom heard on other recordings. The engineers have also captured the distinctive tonal quality of this orchestra most skilfully. Strings have a silky smoothness and the burnished tone of the weighty RNO brass is reproduced with vivid realism while the cymbals (particularly in the symphony’s finale and the R & J Overture) have a thrillingly crisp metallic timbre just as they have in live performances.

With works as familiar as these the performances are certain to divide opinion amongst listeners, particularly when comparisons are made with some of the vast array of versions from the past available on CD. There is no doubt that Pletnev has reconsidered his interpretation of the symphony over the intervening15 years since he made his last recording of it. This new one is more taut and also swifter than his earlier version, as the timings for each of the movements make clear.

DGG I 18.49 II 9.43 III 5.44 IV 9.00

PentaTone I 17.42 II 8.55 III 5.21 IV 8.33

However, minor reservations do remain, mostly with regard to the symphony’s opening movement. After a less-than-arresting opening ‘fate fanfare’ the movement’s main allegro sets off at quite a swift pace with an engaging balletic lightness that extends, quite appropriately, to the movement’s second subject group, though Pletnev’s sudden diminuendo at 3’45’is one of a few questionable interpretive decisions in this movement that will disturb some people more than others. Each return of the fate fanfares during the development section is restrained rather than bitingly dramatic which does rob the music of some of its force and passion. Pletnev’s somewhat cool and detached account of this opening movement may leave some listeners feeling short-changed while others will welcome the conductor’s more restrained ‘classical’ interpretation.

Pletnev’s performances of the final three movements are much less contentious. The ‘Andantino in modo di canzone’ flows at an attractively forward moving pace benefiting from the rich RNO string sound and fine woodwind solos. The following ‘Scherzo - pizzicato ostinato’ is fast and deftly played with a light touch, but it is in the finale that the performance really finds the fire and attack somewhat missing in the first movement. Overall though, this is an account of the symphony to be reckoned with.

Surprisingly this is PentaTone’s third recording of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ Overture (if one includes the composer’s earlier 1869 version Tchaikovsky: Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet - Jurowski). This overture is a favourite fill-up to recordings of the Tchaikovsky’s symphonies and, as usual, it makes a splendid adjunct to the symphony. Pletnev’s approach here seems much more attuned to what one might call mainstream Tchaikovskian style. As in the symphony, the orchestral playing is thrilling, and Pletnev certainly does give the sweeping lyricism of the ‘love music’ its head without becoming too overly emotional. All in all this is a most satisfying account of this much-recorded piece.

This disc marks an auspicious start to Pletnev’s new Tchaikovsky cycle, and with a recording quality that really deserves more than the maximum 5 stars, it makes one eager for the next instalment to appear.

Definitely recommended.

Copyright © 2011 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

Performance:

Sonics (Multichannel):

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