Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 1

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky
LABELS: PentaTone Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 1
WORKS: Symphony No. 1 (Winter Daydreams); Marche Slave
PERFORMER: Russian National Orchestra/Mikhail Pletnev


At what speed should one start a work marked Allegro tranquillo – ‘Lively (yet) calm’ – and subtitled Winter Daydreams? Tchaikovsky himself made the Allegro element foremost with his metronome mark of 132 crotchets per minute. Mikhail Pletnev, however, seems more intent on ‘tranquillo’ and ‘daydreams’, and starts at almost half that speed – even slower, in fact, than the already leisurely tempo he took in his previous, rather plodding account of this symphony on DG. In this new recording Pletnev tries to make his slow tempo work by steadily accelerating to the first climax; unfortunately he then quickly switches to a lower gear for the lyrical second theme, stretching out that modest clarinet theme into something pretentious and charmless.

Alas, things are little better in the following Adagio: Pletnev again goes far slower than Tchaikovsky’s metronome mark, resulting in portentous pauses inevitably followed by unassuming melodic ideas with bathetic results. The scherzo movement survives in a relatively straightforward account, but the finale sounds vacuously bombastic in Pletnev’s weighty tempo.

It is hugely disappointing to give such a firm thumbs down to this disc after Pletnev’s superb recording of the Fifth Symphony in this series, but his performance here is utterly perverse, as is evident when listening to either Igor Markevitch conducting the LSO (Newton), or Evgeny Svetlanov with the USSR Symphony (Warner), both of whom follow Tchaikovsky’s metronome marks and prove that he knew what he was doing. Pletnev’s rousing Marche Slave is a hi-fi spectacular, but I doubt anyone will want the disc for that alone.


Daniel Jaffé