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Tchaikovsky: Symphonies Nos 1 & 3 etc (Double Review)

Tonhalle Orchestra/Paavo Järvi (Alpha Classics)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Tchaikovsky
Symphony No. 1, ‘Winter Daydreams’; Italian Capriccio; Eugene Onegin – Waltz
Tonhalle Orchestra/Paavo Järvi
Alpha Classics ALPHA 838   64:59 mins

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Symphony No. 3, ‘Polish’; Eugene Onegin – Polonaise; Festival Coronation March
Tonhalle Orchestra/Paavo Järvi
Alpha Classics ALPHA 839    53:35 mins

Paavo Järvi does Tchaikovsky the supreme good service of allowing his earlier symphonies to stand without a sense of special pleading or undue podium tinkering. The string sound is open rather than weighty, the woodwind direct and uncoiffured and brass meticulously balanced. Try the heartfelt slow movement of ‘Winter Daydreams’ and everything is carefully sculpted, gently vibratoed, virtually portamento-free and sensitively shaped, the following scherzo light-as-air and refined (the enchanting waltzing central section kept on an emotionally even keel), and the finale free of bombast, with even the lower brass’s crowning premonition of ‘Anchors Aweigh’ discreetly prevented from leaping out of one’s speakers.

The ‘Polish’ is a more difficult work to bring off convincingly, and once again Järvi does a wonderful job of clearly delineating where the music is going, allowing Tchaikovsky’s refulgent textures to emerge unfettered, with an emotionally lighter spring in their step than usual. Given nowhere to hide, the outer movement’s elastoplastic contrapuntal sequences will leave structuralists shaking their heads in despair, yet there is a playful honesty about Järvi’s approach that imbues these well-trodden musical paths with a bracing freshness. Those seeking a sense of burning imperative, of this music arriving hot off the press, of searing emotional urgency and pulsating rhythmic drive, should look elsewhere – to Maazel (Decca), Muti (EMI/Warner) or Karajan (DG), for example – yet if you prefer exhilarating balletic nuances, free of expressive overload, then Järvi is your man. The extras are similarly expert in execution and keen-sighted in conception.

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Julian Haylock