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Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 2 - Pletnev

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 2 - Pletnev

PentaTone Classics  PTC 5186382

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 2 in C minor Op. 17 (plus original first movement)

Russian National Orchestra
Mikhail Pletnev (conductor)

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Review by Graham Williams - July 14, 2012

This is the penultimate release in Mikhail Pletnev's Tchaikovsky Symphony cycle with the Russian National Orchestra for PentaTone. The earlier issues have shown that in the main Pletnev is a persuasive guide through these works. Occasionally his predominantly safe approach to the later symphonies has, for some listeners, been characterised as lacking in visceral excitement - his coolness sometimes suggesting a lack of engagement with the music. Happily that is not the case here, and Pletnev's enthusiastic performance and superbly recorded account of this most loveable of Tchaikovsky symphonies can be recommended unreservedly .

Tchaikovsky composed this symphony in 1872 but, in spite of a well received first performance the following year, he became dissatisfied with the work and substantially revised it seven years later. It is this later 1879 version that is almost always played today and which occupies the bulk of this SACD. We are, however, given the opportunity to experience some of Tchaikovsky's first thoughts with the rather ungenerous fill-up on the disc; a performance of the first movement of Tchaikovsky's original 1872 version of the score. Since Tchaikovsky also made alterations to both the work's scherzo and finale, it is a pity that the originals of these movements could not also have been included, particularly when the total playing time of the disc is a meagre 48' 12”. Nevertheless it is interesting to be able to compare the 1872 and 1879 first movements side by side. In the final analysis, however, it merely confirms that Tchaikovsky's decision to destroy the original score was probably a correct one. The sprawling movement found here compares unfavourably with the taut 1879 revision, though Pletnev and the RNO's committed performance does its best to convince us otherwise.

That grumble apart, Pletnev directs an affectionate and unfussy reading of Tchaikovsky's engaging score and elicits thrilling playing from all sections of the RNO, who here are certainly on top form.
Pletnev's tempi for each of the symphony's four movements are well chosen, uncontroversial and his account is free from mannerisms. Beginning with the symphony's opening horn solo, the phrasing of the Ukranian folk melodies with which this work abounds sound entirely idiomatic and are delivered with polished charm by these fine musicians . The 'Andantino marziale' has a delightful spring in its step, the 'Scherzo' is urgent yet retains a sparkle and balletic lightness throughout, while the finale is played with a driving no-holes-barred approach. The conductor's decision to begin the coda, that follows the huge tam-tam crash, at a slower tempo, then gradually speed up as he propels it furiously to the exciting final bars works really well.

Though the recording of the “Little Russian” by Neeme Järvi and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra on BIS Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 2 - Järvi is thoroughly recommendable, and even finds room to include three overtures in addition to the symphony, I find this Pletnev reading to be even more involving.

A constant factor in this PentaTone cycle has been not only the exceptional playing of the RNO but the superb sound quality with which the Polyhymnia engineers have graced these recordings. The DZZ Studio 5 in Moscow provides an almost ideal acoustic for this music. All the instrumental lines are clearly delineated and a convincing orchestral image is created between the speakers. Elegant playing from the woodwind is beautifully captured as is the rasp of the weighty Russian brass section and the slam of the powerful percussion.

All in all a marvellous disc!

Copyright © 2012 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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Sonics (Multichannel):

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