Tchaikovsky: Orchestral Suite No. 3 in G; Francesca da Rimini

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COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Orchestral Suite No. 3 in G; Francesca da Rimini
PERFORMER: Detroit SO/Neeme Järvi
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9419 DDD
In the decade that separated his Fourth and Fifth symphonies Tchaikovsky turned on no fewer than four occasions to the less demanding (and perhaps also less self-revealing) form of the orchestral suite. Of the four, the Third (1884) is the most popular, the most personal and indeed the most symphonic.

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It’s also strongly lyrical, with a good deal of character in its four varied movements, the last a substantial set of variations. Here the playing of the Detroit orchestra is itself characterful, demonstrating plenty of skill and poise, and fully equal to the composer’s frequently virtuosic challenge.

Yet though his phrasing is often shapely, Neeme Järvi’s approach is emotionally reticent, holding back some of the music’s natural expansiveness. The morbid ‘Valse mélancolique’ doesn’t quite come off, nor do the Variations have the charm they need (and deserve).

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This unwillingness to give the music its head is more damaging in Francesca da Rimini, whose theme of illicit love punished held a powerful significance for the composer. There is a good deal more passion and torment in this music than Järvi reveals, and both the recorded sound and some of the playing are too fuzzy to allow Tchaikovsky’s high-definition finish to glint properly. George Hall