Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 3; Coronation March
Mikhail Pletnev’s Tchaikovsky Symphony cycle on Pentatone reaches arguably the hardest work to pull off. Symphony No. 3 is full of attractive melodies, most particularly in its three central movements of which the heart is the enchanting slow movement; yet its first movement contains one of Tchaikovsky’s most turgid and repetitive development sections, while its finale is widely considered one of his most emptily conventional. The trick of a successful performance, it seems, is to reach its highlights while artfully distracting listeners from the potential tedium of the more four-square passages.
Pletnev’s previous recording (on DG), though relatively successful, did not conceal the first movement’s uneven quality. This time, for all the glossy and technically faultless playing of the Russian National Orchestra, the entire movement is delivered in a brisk and efficient manner, as if Pletnev has decided to reduce the entire movement to the emotional level of the development section, largely ignoring Tchaikovsky’s espressivo markings. It is almost a shock when in the second movement Alla tedesca Pletnev shapes a phrase with some ritardando. Alas, it is too little, too late; what little shaping Pletnev gives to the music from here on fails to bring the Symphony back to life. Indeed, the orchestra’s playing is so lacking in poetry that the third movement refuses to cast its spell. More successful is the finale, its cheery pomp all the more striking when followed by the noisy bombast of the Coronation March, fittingly written for one of Russia’s most stolid and unlovable tsars, Alexander III.