Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4 in F minor; Francesca da Rimini

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Symphony No. 4 in F minor; Francesca da Rimini
PERFORMER: Bamberg SO/José Serebrier
CATALOGUE NO: CD-1273
From the label that brought you Järvi and Vänskä in Sibelius, as well as Wigglesworth’s Shostakovich – José Serebrier in Tchaikovsky? Try it; you may be more impressed than you expected. Something of a maverick in the recording world, Serebrier rekindles an old-school approach to Tchaikovsky – if one takes it that Mravinsky, with his swift and classical precision, always smacked of the new – and the larger-than-life ghost of Stokowski, his master in the American Symphony Orchestra years, is never far away. More solid and less volatile than Stokowski, Serebrier occasionally recalls some of his wilful eccentricities: the bullish thrust of the confident central section in the Fourth’s slow movement, for instance, or the incredibly attenuated treatment of the folksong ‘On the plain stands a birch-tree’ in the finale’s development. Stokowski would certainly have given more inner life to some of the phrases: Serebrier seems to forget that the first subject proper of the opening movement waltzes even as it wrings its hands and weeps, though what follows is etched with unremitting clarity.

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The Bambergers have always been impressive – they played superbly for Järvi in Martinu and more recently Rickenbacher in Strauss – but have never quite sounded like the heavyweights into which Serebrier transforms them; the recording is appropriately big and brash. Woodwind solos throughout are memorably phrased, even if the sorrowing clarinet’s vibrato at the heart of Francesca da Rimini may not be to all tastes. Here, then, is the kind of monster Tchaikovsky that we thought Mravinsky’s example had laid to rest; it’s good to hear it once in a while executed as well as this. David Nice