WORKS: Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture; Symphony No. 6 (Pathétique)
PERFORMER: City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Andris Nelsons
CATALOGUE NO: C 832 101 A
These are surprisingly middle-of-the-road performances, in parts at least, from Birmingham’s already, and deservedly, well-loved Latvian wonder. No doubt it didn’t help that I came to this recording by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Andris Nelsons of Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique soon after reeling from the depths and nuancing of Claudio Abbado’s Lucerne partnership with the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra (on DVD, reviewed in January). But I would have expected Nelsons to leave more of a personal stamp on his interpretation, even if it didn’t have to be extreme like the astonishing Mikko Franck performance (released on Ondine).
To my ears, Nelsons doesn’t quite show the ideal singerly freedom with the big love song of the first movement, and the development, though incisive, lacks inner life (there’s no faking the emotion here – try Daniele Gatti, of recent interpreters, conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for the real thing).
The second movement’s quasi-waltz is rather deliberate. And if Nelsons really sees the third movement as ‘the victory of death’, as he tells Geoffrey Norris in a booklet interview, then his characterisation is less precipitous than some. Shame the Symphony Hall reverb in otherwise handsome sound blurs the climaxes here, too.
At least the final tattoo is threatening, and the plunge into grief decently connected. If there’s one point at which this performance really takes off, it’s in Nelsons’ masterly crescendo through the central hymn, though even that starts with deliberation.
The same goes for Romeo and Juliet: rather ordinary and lacking in atmosphere until the height of the fight leading on to the tragedy’s denouement. Not perhaps this young conductor’s finest hour, but so much more is still to come. David Nice