WORKS: The Tempest; Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture; 1812 Overture; Marche slave
PERFORMER: Berlin PO/Claudio Abbado
CATALOGUE NO: 453 496-2
For the most part this is the popular Tchaikovsky – the really popular Tchaikovsky: the nationalist, blood-stirring (or curdling, depending on your point of view) 1812 and Marche slave and the superbly dramatic Romeo and Juliet with its heart-tugging love theme. The exception is the rarely heard Shakespearian Symphonic Fantasy The Tempest – subject of some snotty criticism in the UK, but actually full of imaginative touches, with fine tone-painting (especially the opening depiction of an uneasy sea) and tender love music. Tchaikovsky himself thought very highly of it. This new performance is well-shaped and sumptuously played, but it doesn’t quite have the sweeping overview of the Detroit/Järvi recording on Chandos – Järvi finds a dramatic continuity many other versions have lacked.
When it comes to Romeo and Juliet, the Abbado version is again well argued, often alluring, but it’s never quite the kind of performance which makes the hairs bristle on the back of the neck. And yet, surprisingly, there’s nothing available at present which is really incendiary – with the kind of brilliance and intensity a Toscanini or a Mravinsky might have brought to this score. So for the moment Abbado will do as well as anybody – provided one doesn’t mind the lowish recording level. No question though, if you want to be stirred by the Marche slave or the 1812 Overture (and what are these pieces if they don’t stir?), the best bets are Valery Gergiev’s surprisingly emotive Marche slave and Antal Dorati’s evergreen 1958 version of 1812 with the Minneapolis Symphony – the ending still dangerous to the ears more than four decades later. Stephen Johnson