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Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 3 - Kitajenko

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 3 - Kitajenko

Oehms Classics  OC 670

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 3 "Polish", Sleeping Beauty (suite)

Gürzenich-Orchester Köln
Dmitrij Kitajenko


Tchaikovsky composed his third Symphony in the year 1875. It contains subtle inwardness and grandeur, sometimes too much grandeur, elated folkloristic simplicity and contrapuntal complexities; the intimacy of chamber music and expansive Cinemascope Sound. is Super Audio CD is completed by excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet Sleeping Beauty.

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Review by John Miller - May 9, 2013

"As far as I can see this symphony presents no particularly successful ideas, but in workmanship it is a step forward. I am satisfied above all with the first movement and the two scherzos". Tchaikovsky said this after the première of his Third Symphony, perhaps stung by the vitriolic dismissal of his First Piano Concerto by his teacher Anton Rubenstein. His second sentence is remarkable, because the music of the outer movements of the new (five movement) symphony is clearly not characteristic of his style, having all the hallmarks of orthodox symphonic correctness. In lesser hands these out movments sound rhythmically stodgy, repetitious and bombastic.

At the penultimate stage of his Tchaikovsky Symphony series with the Gürzenich Orchestra, Kitajenko is ready to take up the gauntlet and produce a performance which makes the most of the first and last movements, while presenting the superb three inner movements with some of the most affecting and balletic performances available on disc. In other words, this is an outstanding reading, with excellent orchestral shaping and detailing that enhances, but never over-rides, Tchaikovsky's meticulous scoring. Kitajenko's movement timings are each within a few seconds of Gergiev's fine Third (Tchaikovsky: Symphonies 1-3 - Gergiev). Surprisingly. Järvi's version (Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 3 - Järvi) notably the faster, and he uses this approach to add spirit and panâche to the rogue outer movements.

After an atmospherically hushed opening funeral march, Kitajenko gets a firm hold of the following repeated partial climaxes which transfer us to the Allegro brilliante start of the first movement proper. He whips up expectation and excitement more than the others so that the energetic first subject sparkles with energy. The whole movement retains this power charge, relaxing only for the lovely second subject presented by the oboe (which is accompanied by a polonaise rhythm tapped out by the strings, not often noticed.) The often tedious development section, which is academically and not emotionally constructed, also exploits the rhythmic energy pulse which Kitajenko ignited at the beginning. Tension is built inexorably towards the end, but with careful dynamic grading, so that the orchestra rises to the final pages with a force that almost leaves the listener breathless.

Other conductors might lavish much detailed care on the second movement 'Alla tedesca' (in the German manner), which is really a waltz. Kitajenko instead takes literally Tchaikovsky's instruction for simplicity, which allows the subtle rhythms and wonderful orchestral colours to speak for themselves. Twittering, winged phrases, often compared to Mendelssohn's scherzo inventions, fly in flickering patterns which elicit marvelous ensemble playing from the conversational winds and strings in this disarming and charming movement. The Gürzenich make this movement distinctly balletic, not surprisingly because Tchaikovsky was already planning his next major work, Swan Lake.

A symphonic slow movement is required, so the next music links to the symphony's introductory funeral march with an elegy. No heavy brass or timpani here, just wonderfully warm, flowing cantabile melodies, echt Tchaikovsky. I much admired the lovely voicing of the opening woodwind choir, the balletic central section (all tutus and pointed toes) and the magical coda with soft but dramatic shivering strings and a sage final solo from the bassoon.

The Scherzo has muted strings throughout, their fragmentary motifs scurrying about here and there. Toy soldiers were suggested to me, with scaled-down military fanfare simulations. Children might well have been in mind too, as the violins are given many bars of playful (dutiful?) up and down scales, which add to the fun. Wonderful chemistry here between conductor and players, giving the scherzo a lightness and transparency which is admirable.

Bombastic finales with mediocre material seem to be the problem with all three early symphonies of Tchaikovsky. The Third's fifth movement is designated as a Rondo, and qualified as Allegro con fuoco and tempo di Polacca (from whence the symphony got its Polish nick-name). Kitajenko has this played with passion as requested, but shapes the many repetitious semi-climaxes in a flowing arc, keeping the rhythmic vigour but controlling the dynamics so that the seemingly endless coda which the composer devised doesn't peak until the splendid peroration with heavy brass and an inspired emphasis on the fusillade of timpani strokes leads a solid and majestic conclusion. Phew!

Oehms Classics gives us the Sleeping Beauty Suite op. 66a as a reasonably generous companion (it is more than a "fill-up") with a total disc playing time of 68'19. Its four excerpts from Act 1, and 3 are given idiomatic and expansive performances, emphasising the truly symphonic essence of Tchaikovsky's ballet music.

Oehms recorded in Studio Stolberger Strasse, Cologne, which has a large enough space and ambiance to almost mimic a concert hall. The sound stage is wide, with good depth. Instruments have pin-point location, their distance from the theoretical listener being signaled by the amount of soft ambiance which each carries. Bass is rich, clearly and cleanly picked up. Interestingly, the ambient halo is ravishingly borne by all instruments at volumes up to FF, but at full tuttis and high amplifier volume, there is clear evidence of the sound being confined and slightly confused by the studio, and the ambient halo attached to each instrument hardens. Nevertheless, this is a very fine sound; better than Gergiev's (despite his much improved acoustic in the Tonhalle Zürich, after the dry Barbican, but with a flatter depth). Perhaps Järvi has the best venue of the three in the Gothenburg Hall, although some may find this lovely BIS recording a little distant.

I really enjoyed this latest installment of the Kitajenko Tchaikovsky series. Enthusiastic collectors of the set so far will not be disappointed and will purchase automatically, and others have another top quality reading to compare with those of Gergiev and Järvi.

Copyright © 2013 John Miller and HRAudio.net

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Comments (2)
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Comment by Bruce Zeisel - August 15, 2016 (1 of 2)

I highly recommend this one.

Comment by Adrian Quanjer - August 19, 2016 (2 of 2)

I didn't like Järvi, don't like Gergiev, this is the one for me, too!