Symphony no. 1 in G minor, op 13
Symphony no. 2 in C minor, op 17
Symphony no. 3 in D major, op 29
Symphony no. 4 in F minor, op 36
Symphony no. 5 in E minor, op 64
Symphony no. 6 in B minor, op 74 (Path?tique)
Mikhail Pletnev, conductor
(Five CD set)
DG 449 967-2
Fabulously poised playing... A performance of unforced eloquence, intelligence and far-sighted rigour, possessing an element of classical restraint of which the composer would surely have approved... The playing of the Russian National Orchestra is past praise in its jaw-[INVALID]ping co-ordination, suppleness and poise... I love, too, the care Pletnev takes over Tchaikovsky's middle voices: low winds, trombones and violas all make their presence count.
First things first, and the very opening of the First Symphony's first movement, subtitled Daydreams on a Wintry Road, is initially very dreamy ... very impressive indeed ... , There is a choir-like blend and evenness of tone from the top to the bottom of the orchestra (brass contributions, in particular, are rounded and sonorous); and it's a very Russian-sounding 'choir' in that, time after time, your attention is caught by the colour, richness and definition of the orchestra's basses, whether bass trombone, tuba, bassoon or string basses (and the cavernous bell-like boom of the gong must rate a mention). .... In the Second Symphony's finale, ideals and actual performance come together (a point confirmed by the final uproarious cannon-fire crescendo from the timpani). ... For Pletnev, the Pathetique, I suspect, stands apart from the other symphonies, as this new DG account remains an interpretation that throws moderation to the winds. Compared with his 1991 debut recording on Virgin Classics, the first movement Allegro is a degree more moderate, but the Scherzo/March is not a whit less immoderate (a warning to those who don't like death-defying speed in this movement). The finale is now broader tragedy with darker colourings; the strings sing with greater intensity and there is no stinting on blistering trumpet tone at the top of the climactic scale. The trumpets' fff outburst in the first movement's development is equally powerful, though you can now hear more of the surrounding activity. And that is a tribute to the DG recording; more open, clearer and more present than the Virgin recording, and one that perhaps conveys a greater sense of occasion. ...
Now [the RNO] has honoured their greatest symphonist, from the Glinka-influenced First to the personal agony of the Sixth. Tchaikovsky's first three symphonies, generally overshadowed by the last three, are not juvenilia, as this set shows. Folksong dominates the first two and Pletnev's readings are in turn wistful and colourful, in particular the waltz trio of the First, felicitously phrased by the players. The ballet composer emerges strongly in the Third in a vibrant reading with warm string tone. The Fourth is impeccably played with some blazing brass. .... The famous horn solo in the Fifth is wonderfully played with typical Russian vibrato ... ; the Sixth begins lugubriously, has a thrilling march and impassioned finale. Good sound and an informative booklet.
The Russian National Orchestra has become the highest-powered exponent of Russian symphonic music... By every measure, musical and technical, these recordings (Tchaikovsky's Symphonies) blow away every competitor in the catalog... The [RNO] set renders superfluous every Tchaikovsky Symphony recording of the past 35 years. It's hard to imagine another cycle trumping it.