Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 2
After Mikhail Pletnev’s unsatisfying recording of Symphony No. 1, it is good to hear his relatively straightforward account of Symphony No. 2. Here he presents not only the standard published version, but also the first movement in its original form, which several of Tchaikovsky’s colleagues thought far superior to the revised version. The first attempt is emotionally more intense and concentrated in terms of symphonic development than the self-consciously airier and light-footed version composed some seven years later in emulation of the French and Rococo music he admired. And the original version’s darker character also makes more sense of its brooding coda, and creates a Mahlerian contrast with the following lighter-hearted second movement march.
Pletnev’s performance of this with the Russian National Orchestra is far more polished than the only other recording, Geoffrey Simon’s with an uncharacteristically sub-par LSO. On the other hand, Simon records the entire original Symphony, revealing significant differences in movements other than the first: in the third movements there are differences in articulation and orchestration, including a passage in the original in which the strings use the backs of their bows col legno rather than the pizzicato of the revision; and the original finale includes an extra 150 bars which Tchaikovsky later cut. It’s a pity, then, that Pletnev did not take advantage of the disc’s length to record that entire original version.