Symphonies Nos 2 & 4
Tonhalle-Orchester Zurich/Paavo Järvi
Alpha Classics ALPHA735 76:10 mins
This is the second recording in Paavo Järvi’s Tchaikovsky cycle with the Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich, of which he became chief conductor in 2019, recorded just before COVID shut everything down. Symphonies Nos 2 and 4 are played here, but it is the former, the Little Russian (so-called for its preponderance of songs from the Ukraine) that impresses most; the extraordinary opening with its bleak orchestral chord overtaken by a horn solo playing the folk song ‘Down by the mother Volga’ a brief moment of shrouded darkness before the dazzling and energetic remainder of the Symphony. Järvi jumps in enthusiastically, feet first, the Tonhalle entirely with him.
Järvi brings a fine and convincing sense of shape to this symphony, the dynamics sculpted, exaggerated yet illuminating and full of clarity. The Andante Marziale is a joyous light march with great articulation and infectious energy, before the explosive attack of the third and a jubilant, unstoppable drive to the finish.
The more familiar Fourth is slightly more troublesome, although it has a very convincing sense of anguish here under Järvi, the symphony seeming – perhaps like Tchaikovsky at the time – to tear its hair out. Järvi pushes the tempos, giving us the sense of threads running through a mind; of persistent worries, perhaps, recurring over and over again. The exaggerated rubato sometimes impedes the flow, however. Frequently thrilling, there is the sense, too, that by the final movement we, and the entire orchestra, are rushing for a bus which is haring along just out of sight.
Sarah Urwin Jones