Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 6

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky
LABELS: Philips
ALBUM TITLE: Tchaikovsky Symphonies
WORKS: Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 6
PERFORMER: Vienna Philharmoni Orchestra, Valery Gergiev
CATALOGUE NO: 475 6197
Having recorded very different interpretations of two late Tchaikovsky symphonies, Gergiev was bound to fill in the missing link and face comparisons with Mravinsky’s classic 1960 Leningrad sequence of symphonies 4-6. But which orchestra should Philips choose? Setting the curate’s-egg Fifth with the Vienna Philharmonic (reviewed June 1999) alongside the searing Sixth from Gergiev’s own Kirov forces (reviewed April 2000), the Kirov wins hands down over the Viennese in intensity, atmosphere and weight. It’s not so much a question of a ‘Russian sound’; the difference is simply between a hyper-sophisticated orchestra warming to Gergiev’s idiosyncrasies and one which even in 1995, when Gergiev’s ‘first’ Sixth was recorded, knew its music director well and burned for him.

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So what happens? We not only have a Vienna Fourth but also a brand-new Sixth which sounds superficial alongside its Kirov predecessor. Compare both openings and you hear Kirov double basses and bassoon emerging out of the blackest background, while the accomplished Viennese sheen is all too present from the start. Gergiev makes the most of the sumptuous Vienna string sound in the great final Adagio, but at its heart the players don’t move easily with him. Flexible interpretative outlines remain, with the occasional extra kick of a live event, and the brighter lights of the middle movements shine with a special focus. Otherwise, this is merely very good while the Kirov performance is simply great.

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The new Fourth is called into question by Gergiev’s heavy-hearted view of the first movement’s main allegro theme, which sounds neither animated nor waltz-like as Tchaikovsky asks, and by the Vienna oboe’s sour pecking in its crucial second-movement song. Gergiev does, however, keep the drama on the move in the last three movements, flowing without a break, and the sound, cradled in warm Musikverein acoustics, is very much alive. For consistency, though, Mravinsky remains in a different league. David Nice