Pablo Heras-Casado conducts Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 1 and The Tempest – symphonic fantasia

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COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Tchaikovsky
WORKS: Symphony No. 1; The Tempest – symphonic fantasia
PERFORMER: Pablo Heras-Casado
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 902220

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Whether or not this betokens a Tchaikovsky series from Pablo Heras-Casado isn’t clear, to me at any rate, but his choices are interesting. The First Symphony makes a beguiling start with magical restraint, the wind phrase properly articulated and the second theme allowed to billow in a way that suggests a fine-tuned Tchaikovsky interpreter. The composer’s first movement of uninterrupted genius, the Adagio cantabile with its stream of song, doesn’t quite flow, though, and the horn-led climax is a disappointment. Heras-Casado’s vocalisations, glaringly apparent in the muted-string framing of the movement, are a distraction on CD; they probably wouldn’t matter so much in the concert hall.

The louder parts of the fascinating depressive-manic finale and the storm music of The Tempest make me wonder whether the Orchestra of St Luke’s is really cut out for this music – I may be wrong, but it’s surely a stretch for what’s usually a tight little outfit. Still, Heras-Casado makes you wonder at the incredible refinement of Tchaikovsky’s most daring symphonic fantasia before Manfred, from the 13-part strings and eerie modulations of Prospero’s seascape to the beauty of the love music – even if it’s hardly redolent of innocent Ferdinand and Miranda – and the way the Ariel and Caliban musics get caught up in a fiery development. The natural sound with its proper concert-hall perspectives certainly helps. But then you turn to Claudio Abbado, who always had a soft spot for this score, and the Berlin Philharmonic, and you hear something altogether more caressing and vivid.

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David Nice