Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 2 (Little Russian – 1879 version); The Storm, Op. 76; Festive Overture on the Danish National Anthem; Overture in F (1866 version)

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky
LABELS: BIS
ALBUM TITLE: Tchaikovsky
WORKS: Symphony No. 2 (Little Russian – 1879 version); The Storm, Op. 76; Festive Overture on the Danish National Anthem; Overture in F (1866 version)
PERFORMER: Gothenburg SO/Neeme Järvi
CATALOGUE NO: SACD-1418
If anyone could spin gold out of the gangly lyricism of the Second Symphony’s original first movement, it would be that veteran of creative conducting Neeme Järvi. What we have here, though, is the standard 1879 reworking, which is hardly a cause for regret. After Gothenburg soloists have been given expressive space in Tchaikovsky’s introductory variations on a Ukrainian folk song, the taut revision springs to pristine life in all its Beethovenian energy. Järvi senior has a disciplined energy worthy of son Paavo, though I’m not sure we’re getting the full gracious smile and nuancing of old, nor all the vivacious detail of Muti’s classic Little Russian (available on a 7-CD set for not much more than the price of this one). The second movement’s miniature march bounces sprucely but could relax to welcome its lyric visitors; conversely the high-kicking finale’s brief songful respite sags at a slower tempo. Keenly-articulated Gothenburg playing sounds to me rather garishly lit by the familiar concert-hall team, but you certainly get the natural acoustics of the orchestra’s home in the SACD format.

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Järvi’s dashing way with the early overtures, even more unusual than previous companion-pieces in this series, is fun in small doses. You won’t get much of the real Tchaikovsky in the F major work of 1866 beyond several fantastical flurries, and the meeting of Danish and Russian anthems outstays its welcome past the gruff pleasure of ‘God save the Tsar’ rearing on lower strings. The Storm should really have accompanied the First Symphony, since the wistful portrait of playwright Ostrovsky’s original Katya Kabanova at its height later framed the Symphony’s slow movement; but it’s certainly the most imaginative of the extras on parade. David Nice