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Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 1, Marche Slave - Pletnev

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 1, Marche Slave - Pletnev

PentaTone Classics  PTC 5186381

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 1 in G minor Op. 13, Marche Slave Op. 31

Russian National Orchestra
Mikhail Pletnev (conductor)

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Review by John Broggio - February 4, 2012

A controversial first movement but stunning for the remainder of the disc.

The opening movement of the first symphony is marked "Allegro tranquillo" and as is immediately obvious from the semi-quavers in the violins (split incidentally) and the flutes that Pletnev is very much emphasising the tranquil nature and arguably too much. Some will certainly feel it is too slow but given enough time and the quality of phrasing and playing hook the listener and as the tempo rises with Tchaikovsky's markings, the voltage does too. Much of the movement is played with conventional tempo choices (although some changes are more marked than many observe) and the climaxes are as thrilling as the remainder is poetic before the very tranquil tempo returns for the keenly characterised coda.

The adagio opens with gloriously eloquent and noble string playing, showing how cultured the RNO have become in such a short period of time since establishment. Here Pletnev manages to marshal the symphonic arguments well while allowing the principal flautist freedom in evoking future ballet score bonbons. The Scherzo is played with great delicacy in these hands and recalls Mendelssohn's Midsummer Nights Dream with wind and strings competing to spin the most gossamer thread before Pletnev rightly establishes the audibly clear links with future ballet scores in the Trio.

In the finale, the opening Andante lugubre is suitably sombre in mood and then, following a terrific accelerando, the Allegro maestoso is taken fully up to the marked tempo (in stark contrast to the first movement in places); here the virtuosic response of the RNO is thrilling who admirably cope with the challenges thrown at them by Pletnev and the score. For all the fragmented writing in the development section, to Pletnev's great credit he manages to link the lines to produce a cohesive whole. In many ways, the effect is similar to Karajan at his most persuasive, yet when the cymbals, piccolo and brass drum are called upon, there is no question of a divergence of opinion as to their importance! After the return of the opening Andante, the coda is extraordinarily exciting and the sheer panache of the playing (that always eschews vulgarity) quite takes ones breath away.

The encore - and what a magnificently played encore - is the Slavonic March. The timbres of the RNO in the varying orchestration in the main melody are a joy to the ear, as are the "brass band" figurations that dance around in preparation for each climax where they are transformed into the rather menacing accompaniment to the theme that struts underneath maniacal piccolo, flutes and violins. Thanks to Pletnev's restraint, the central "jolly" and marshal episodes do not strike one as odd in the slightest. The second climax is, if anything, even more electrifying - it is impossible to overstate how good this music making is - and the coda is even more so. The entrance of the tam-tam is overwhelming and the disc is worth purchasing for this alone.

Fortunately, Pentatone treat the playing to superlative recording quality too - the bass drum is not just heard but felt and the sound of the tam-tam whooshes past the ears, carrying all before it. The timbre of the remaining instruments (individually and collectively) are just as realistically captured and portrayed and the layout of instruments is easy to hear.

Wonderful - and (potentially) controversial first movement aside - a demonstration disc for all concerned.

Copyright © 2012 John Broggio and HRAudio.net

Performance:

Sonics (Multichannel):

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Review by Graham Williams - February 5, 2012

Mikhail Pletnev's on-going SACD cycle of six Tchaikovsky symphonies with the Russian National Orchestra for PentaTone becomes more personal and distinctive with each new issue and this latest recording of Symphony No. 1 'Winter Daydreams', that in performance terms is the antithesis of Neeme Järvi's recording on BIS Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 1 - Järvi, is almost certain to generate a modicum of controversy.

Pletnev's interpretative stance on this early Tchaikovsky symphony seems to centre on the work's sobriquet 'Winter Daydreams'. He adopts daringly slow tempi for both the first and second movements that allow him to point up Tchaikovsky's delicious orchestration, particularly the shimmering tremolo strings with which the work opens and also the composer's writing for the woodwind. Conversely his dangerously slow tempi for the 'Allegro tranquillo' as a whole does tend to sap the music of energy and Slavic fire. The second movement is marked 'Adagio cantabile ma non tanto' and Pletnev, perhaps unwisely, chooses to ignore the second part of this instruction. The result is a somewhat morose and limp account of this lovely movement that, in spite of both sensitive and gloriously full-blooded playing from the RNO, seems to lack real affection and purpose.

Happily everything suddenly changes with the 'Scherzo' that follows. This is performed with a winning lightness and delicacy – its balletic nature bringing Pletnev's conducting suddenly to life. The typically Tchaikovskian waltz of the trio section is quite entrancingly delivered by the RNO strings with added flecks of colour from the wind. The effect is quite captivating and one feels that for the first time in this performance Pletnev is beginning to smile.

The conductor's newly found dynamism also extends to the symphony's final movement. Pletnev's 'Finale' is delivered with tremendous spirit, and he handles the changes of mood in the various sections of this movement with conviction. The slow build up from the mournful opening with its lugubrious bassoon to the sweep and power of the 'Allegro maestoso' is well managed with a real sense of anticipation . Later one notices that the clarity and clear articulation of the central fugato section benefits from Pletnev's preferred seating of the orchestra with its antiphonally placed violins. The blazing Russian brass and imposing bass drum thwacks bring his account of this symphony to a triumphant conclusion.

The disc concludes with a crisply executed and swiftly flowing account of the popular 'Marche Slave'. Pletnev really goes to town in the final section of the piece unleashing the cymbals and tam-tam to thrilling effect and making one wish that a little more of the exuberance and energetic drive shown here had been lavished on the symphony. The disc's playing time of 55' 21” is not especially generous and an extra fill-up would have been most welcome.

Those to whom Pletnev's approach to the symphony appeals will be rewarded by cultured and idiomatic orchestral playing and magnificent recorded sound. As in the earlier three issues in this cycle Erdo Groot and his Polyhymnia colleagues have engineered a stunning 5.0 DSD recording that captures every aspect of Tchaikovsky's wonderful orchestral writing in full measure.

A cautious recommendation is, I feel, appropriate.

Copyright © 2012 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

Performance:

Sonics (Multichannel):

stars stars