WORKS: Symphony No. 6 (Pathétique), Apotheosis
PERFORMER: Swedish RSO/Mikko Franck
CATALOGUE NO: ODE 1002-2
Twenty-four-year-old Mikko Franck is a wise head on young shoulders, and always has been, as revealed by his own account of turning to Tchaikovsky’s Sixth for solace throughout a long childhood illness. The way he hears it now avoids the fireworks we might expect from a conductor at the start of his career, and heads instead for the deep waters. If that means some dangerously slow tempi, Franck is an interpreter who knows how to prepare and how to move out of Tchaikovsky’s chosen centres of gravity without mannerism. Supported by the weightiest of playing from Swedish strings and brass, and sound of often stunning depth, he makes his point where it matters: for the soul of the first movement’s big melody, winding down hauntingly to the most sensitive of clarinet solos; for the big, doomy climax of the entire movement, freighted by apocalyptic trombones that make the judgement-day canvas of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony sound like child’s play; and for the ultimate struggle of the finale – again raised to a metaphysical level.
The idiosyncratic lilt of the 5/4 waltz and an unusually noble, genuinely heroic third-movement parade match spaciousness with detail and lift to the phrasing, though some will miss a frisson in the scherzo’s carefully prepared invitation to the march. Set this alongside Gergiev’s Kirov performance (DG) as the finest of recent Pathétiques, but don’t forget Mravinsky’s middle way.
The Apotheosis adapted from another Sixth Symphony, by Franck’s fellow-Finn Rautavaara, will hardly be decisive in your choice. It makes a rather slick pro-life opening gambit, the final dematerialisation more impressive than its long, slightly synthetic melodic shape, which at least proves that Franck can keep a line moving when appropriate. David Nice