LABELS: San Francisco Symphony
ALBUM TITLE: Tchaikovsky
WORKS: Symphony No. 5; Fantasy-Overture
PERFORMER: San Francisco Symphony/ Michael Tilson Thomas
CATALOGUE NO: SFS 0062 (hybrid CD/SACD)
Long gone are the days when the big record companies would put out stock repertoire on a monthly basis because their star conductors had contracts to fulfil. Now it’s left to the orchestras themselves, and that has to be a good thing when the great masterpieces get a fresh look. Sadly this isn’t such a disc. Sleek as the San Francisco Symphony is, with smooth playing in all departments and some character among the woodwind principals – chiefly the first bassoon – much of the fire has gone out of Michael Tilson Thomas’s Tchaikovsky since he recorded the First Symphony for Deutsche Grammophon 45 years ago.
It was going to have to be an electrifying performance to atone for Michael Tilson Thomas ruining the Fifth’s third-movement waltz for me by divulging scurrilous lyrics to it, in print. The outer portions of the waltz are in fact the best things in this Tchaikovsky Fifth Symphony, though the central flights of fancy could do with more fantasy. More surprising is the lack of intensive pianissimos at one end and of lift to the outer movement conflicts as well as the blaze-ups of an otherwise masterly Andante cantabile at the other. Atmosphere is sorely lacking in the cowled start of Romeo and Juliet too, while the rapiers of the fight wouldn’t graze the skin. A ‘support team’ of no less than four engineers has achieved fine results in Davies Symphony Hall, though without the depth of Avie’s Mahler releases in the same venue. No challenge here, then, to the classic Tchaikovsky of Evgeny Mravinsky or Yuri Temirkanov. David Nice