Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5; Capriccio Italien; The Voyevoda

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COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky
LABELS: BIS
ALBUM TITLE: Tchaikovsky
WORKS: Symphony No. 5; Capriccio Italien; The Voyevoda
PERFORMER: Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Neeme Jarvi
CATALOGUE NO: SACD 1408
When this Tchaikovsky cycle began with an all too even-tempered Pathétique (October 2004), I asked ‘whatever happened to the creative conducting of Neeme Järvi?’. The question hangs over his Fifth, too. A disciplined master is clearly at work in the first movement – handsomely toning the lower timbres of the introduction, lifting the march of fate-as-providence and giving space around Tchaikovsky’s self-styled ‘theme of love’. The subtle colours of the woodwind-led reprise flash originality, too, in the handsome Gothenburg Concert Hall recording. After that, though, we seem to lose the longer lines of which Järvi is supremely capable in the Andante cantabile – shame about the undistinguished horn solo – and even the waltz sounds choppy in the hands of the Gothenburg strings. The finale is clean and bright, but with little sense either of supreme struggle or of its alternative, the machine-like precision with which Mravinsky always made his mark.

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This is all the stranger when the protagonist of Tchaikovsky’s symphonic ballad The Voyevoda comes galloping home with such élan. The Järvi we know and love seems more engaged, too, in shaping the central love music. It may not be first-rate Tchaikovsky – the composer actually tried to eliminate all traces of his score after the 1891 premiere – but the orchestral embroideries are lovingly realised and include the celesta’s debut appearance in Tchaikovsky’s music. With a dashing Capriccio italien to fill the measure, what was true of Järvi’s two previous Tchaikovsky instalments pertains here: the companion-pieces are more alive than the main symphonic event. David Nice