Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5; 1812 Overture

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COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky
WORKS: Symphony No. 5; 1812 Overture
PERFORMER: Berlin PO/Seiji Ozawa
Combining the wisdom of age with the urgency of youth, Günter Wand’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s fate-torn Fifth, recorded in concert at the Hamburg Musikhalle (March 1994), is one to remember. A grand master of the old school, astonishingly now in his eighties, Wand’s view is remarkable chiefly for its unhistrionic pacing and control of the music’s ebb and flow, and for its classical sense of ever-growing climax (the spacious paragraphing of the slow movement is particularly impressive). There’s not a hint of vulgarity: neither pathos nor passion is in excess. The big moments are splendidly effective, the theatrical ones ideally timed. Wand was at the helm of the North German RSO from 1982 to 1991; he’s now their honorary conductor and they give him some beautiful playing. Coupling Tchaikovsky and Mozart has long been a feature of Wand’s programming (Tchaikovsky deified Mozart): here the late G minor Symphony receives a typically civilised, gracefully stylish reading – rarely has the first movement sounded so lithe and buoyant.


A generation younger, the jet-setting opposite of Wand, Seiji Ozawa (with the Berlin Philharmonic at their glossiest) offers a studio approach to Tchaikovsky that’s bigger-boned and more transatlantically Romantic in spirit. Recorded in April 1989, the first movement is quicker than Wand’s (14:44 against 16:09); the third and fourth are longer. Generally preferable to the recent Abbado/BPO release on Sony, there’s much that’s detailed, well-focused and honestly accountable – but it’s Wand, the more thoughtfully musical, who possibly generates the greater fire. The ‘hammer of fate’ ending, a gratuitous touch (shades of Bernstein?), won’t please everyone. 1812 is finely imagined, a cantering scenario of pomp and circumstance with a welcome touch of seriousness (shame, though, about the damp special effects – more like spluttering fireworks than cannons of Napoleonic war). Ates Orga