Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 2
The real star on this album of three well-loved Tchaikovsky works is the effortlessly singing tone of cellist Leonard Elschenbroich. The Rococo Variations is the disc’s highlight, Elschenbroich’s seductive phrasing effectively distracting from the Cologne orchestra’s efficient but rather stolid accompaniment.
Before that, we have the Second Symphony in which Dmitrij Kitajenko finds perfectly sensible tempos. He occasionally enlivens the performance with sudden dynamic contrasts, some of them arguably implied by Tchaikovsky’s repeated fortissimo markings in certain passages (though it’s less obvious why early in the exposition and recapitulation the woodwind, in their dialogue with the strings, should be softer than the strings since both are marked fortissimo). The orchestra plays neatly and, aided by a resonant yet clear recording, brings out detail such as the underlying trumpet pulsation in the final build-up before the first movement’s coda. Yet the playing in this movement has a certain flat-footed quality, quite contrary to the fleet and purposeful effect Tchaikovsky surely intended in this revised version with which he replaced his more monolithic and densely-written original. The second movement Andantino marziale could do with more of an insouciant swagger, and the scherzo is again rather plodding, though Kitajenko attempts to liven things up with a speedier trio section (overriding Tchaikovsky’s indication to keep it at the same tempo). The finale is noisy and bombastic, totally missing the liveliness and charm found by other conductors such as Igor Markevitch. A dry-eyed Andante cantabile rounds off this rather disappointing album.