Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 (Pathétique); Dumka, Op. 59

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky
LABELS: Ondine
ALBUM TITLE: Tchaikovsky
WORKS: Symphony No. 6 (Pathétique); Dumka, Op. 59
PERFORMER: Philadelphia Orchestra/
Christoph Eschenbach (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: ODE 1131-5

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Christoph Eschenbach and the Philadelphians have already tackled one craggy peak of the symphonic repertoire, Mahler’s Sixth, so another Sixth was a logical sequel both to that and to the same team’s Tchaikovsky Four and Five. It certainly rises to the heights of spacious tragedy, impeccably dark and handsome on the surface, glowingly engineered; but as so often, I find this orchestra’s response is wanting in the real atmospheric depths so effortlessly encompassed in an all-Russian performance like any of Mravinsky’s or Gergiev’s with the Kirov Orchestra (his Vienna Philharmonic version is not in the same league). At first you can only admire the conspicuously vocal hairpins in all the opening phrases, the keen articulation of the main Adagio. But the Carmen-influenced aria for orchestra is here too solid to truly sing, and the development, though Eschenbach does all the right things in the right places, doesn’t properly ignite. The 5/4 waltz is a real beauty, glistening with sadness at its core; but the march‑scherzo doesn’t quite scintillate. There’s string body but without searing emotional depth in the finale, though I was impressed by Eschenbach’s only license, an agonising ritardando over the violins’ last protests before the tam‑tam’s death-stroke. The low horns, both open and muted, are superlative. As on his previous recordings of Tchaikovsky, Eschenbach complements his fine conducting with sensitive pianism. Perhaps, a selection of miniatures composed around the Pathétique would have been chronologically more correct, but the Dumka’s brooding Russian start and finish certainly don’t jar with the end of the Symphony. David Nice