Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36; Fantasie, Op. 32 from Francesca da Rimini

COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky
ALBUM TITLE: Tchaikovsky
WORKS: Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36; Fantasie, Op. 32 from Francesca da Rimini
CATALOGUE NO: C 860 111 a

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In these live recordings made last June, Andris Nelsons inspires great enthusiasm in his audience. However, his cool and disciplined style of music-making rather mutes the works on this disc which run the emotional gamut from despair to exhilaration. In Francesca da Rimini you are initially all too aware of the musical means by which Tchaikovsky portrays Dante’s inferno: the tastefully turned chromaticism of the strings fails to translate into the wailings of the damned. The performance does eventually feel more urgent and takes off with the howling wind in which the lovers are trapped. But a greater sense of foreboding can be found in the preceding pages, as Mikhail Pletnev demonstrates in his recent PentaTone recording (reviewed October 2011).

The Symphony’s opening brass fanfare sounds officious rather than commanding, and much of what follows – though gracefully shaped and tastefully musical – lacks the sense of desperation implied by Tchaikovsky’s allusions to the fateful themes of Bizet’s Carmen. That said, the quality of the playing itself is superlative, even before the first movement’s suitably frenzied development section. Live, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra plays under Nelsons’s direction with precision and polish. But there are already so many excellent recordings of this symphony; in the end, I prefer the sense of urgent personal communication found in Yevgeny Mravinsky’s classic 1960 recording with the Leningrad Philharmonic. The CBSO’s over-tasteful interpretation demonstrates Tchaikovsky the craftsman rather than his art.

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Daniel Jaffé