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Tchaikovsky: Symphonies 1-3 - Gergiev

Tchaikovsky: Symphonies 1-3 - Gergiev

LSO Live  LSO0710 (2 discs)

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Tchaikovsky: Symphonies 1-3

London Symphony Orchestra
Valery Gergiev (conductor)


Following his acclaimed Mariinsky DVD of the final three symphonies, Valery Gergiev conducts outstanding performances of the earlier works with the LSO.

Tchaikovsky's early symphonies are full of rich expressive melodies – something for which he had a natural talent. They contain influences of Russian nationalism and folk tunes, particularly in the Second Symphony and the First, which hints at a Russian landscape. The choreographer George Balanchine exploited the dance-like nature of the Third Symphony by using it as the basis for the final part of his ballet masterpiece, Jewels.

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* recorded live 18 and 23 January 2011 at the Barbican, London
** recorded live 23-24 March 2011 at the Barbican, London
^ recorded live 20 May 2011 at the Tonhalle Zürich, Switzerland

James Mallison producer
Neil Hutchinson for Classic Sound Ltd. balance engineer
Neil Hutchinson and Jonathan Stokes for Classic Sound Ltd. audio editors
Reviews (1)
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Review by Graham Williams - September 12, 2012

Valery Gergiev has previously made more than one recording of the final three symphonies of Tchaikovsky, but this is, I believe, the first time he has committed the three earlier ones to disc. On this new LSO Live 2-disc set Symphonies 1 and 2 are comfortably accommodated on the first disc while Symphony 3 has the second disc to itself.

Gergiev's performance of the Symphony No. 1 'Winter Daydreams' is full of character and drama. Unlike the lugubrious Mikhail Pletnev on his recent PentaTone account, the opening 'Allegro tranquillo' is ideally paced and free from exaggeration. Conversely Gergiev's tempo for the second movement strikes me as perhaps too slow, although one relishes both the lovely playing of the LSO woodwind and the firm statement of the main theme at 8'05” by the well-blended horn section. The scherzo is deftly pointed with a smiling middle section and after a very ruminative introduction full of long pauses the finale explodes jubilantly with thrilling energy and virtuosic playing from the LSO. The closeness of the Barbican sound means that the cymbals and bass drum are delivered with maximum impact.

Symphony No.2 'Little Russian' recorded again at the Barbican some two months later begins with a folk-like Ukranian theme and Gergiev stresses its soulful nature at length before embarking on the emphatically played main allegro theme. Thanks to Gergiev's seating of the orchestra with antiphonally placed violins the instrumental lines of the restless development are easily identified.
The little march that follows is pertly played at a quite relaxed tempo while the scherzo has both urgency and precision but without undue haste. As in the earlier work Gergiev pulls out all the stops for the unbridled finale to end a most satisfying performance of one of Tchaikovsky's most endearing works. The dryness of the Barbican acoustic as always compromises one's final impression of these vivid performances and, as I have stressed many times before, most LSO Live recordings need to be played at a high volume setting to achieve the best possible sound from them.

Everything changes, however, with this set's second disc containing the Symphony No.3 'The Polish'. This was recorded in the excellent acoustic of the Tonhalle, Zurich whilst the orchestra were on tour in May 2011 and the difference in sound quality is quite remarkable. There is a sense of space and a pleasing ambience – rarely if ever achieved in the Barbican – that enhances the superb playing of every section of the LSO. If that were not enough Gergiev gives an electrifying account of this Cinderella amongst Tchaikovsky symphonies. Unusually this work has five movements each one full of wonderful melodic invention, even by Tchaikovsky's standards and its neglect in the concert hall is inexplicable. The delightfully balletic nature of much of the music (it was composed between the First Piano Concerto and Swan Lake) is relished by Gergiev and the LSO in the symphony's three inner movements while the outer two have a swagger that demonstrates an orchestra at the peak of its form.

Even if you have the Järvi and on-going PentaTone cycles of these symphonies on SACD this compelling set is a real bargain and well worth investigating.

Copyright © 2012 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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