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Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5; Francesca da Rimini

Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich/Paavo Järvi (Alpha Classics)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Symphony No. 5; Francesca da Rimini, Op. 32
Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich/Paavo Järvi
Alpha Classics ALPHA 659   74:00 mins


Few composers rely on a coherent expressive narrative so profoundly as Tchaikovsky. His symphonies are still castigated in some quarters for their choreographic leanings, yet it is their balletic essence that in part creates such a powerful sense of dramatic imperative. This is music that tantalisingly sits on a musical knife-edge between the concert hall and the ballet theatre. Fine versions of the Fifth Symphony abound in the catalogue, yet few achieve a compelling symbiosis of the music’s structural and emotional content, of creating a captivating psychodrama in sound that goes way beyond mere orchestral mechanics.

Paavo Järvi and the Tonhalle Orchester Zürich establish their musical credentials with a brooding introduction that looks forward to the subterranean murmurings of the Pathétique Symphony. Clearly this is going to be no ordinary reading, and it is Järvi’s careful gradations of the Symphony’s sonic terracing and refusal to let the orchestra have its collective head at the slightest provocation that leaves the most lasting impression here, coupled with a telling avoidance of string-section domination. The Andante cantabile slow movement emerges refreshingly free of hysteria, and the delightful ‘Valse’ is highlighted by passing internal details that many skate over.

Some collectors may miss in the Symphony the touching nobility of Rudolf Kempe (EMI/Testament) or sheer emotional heft of Yevgeny Mravinsky (DG) or 1970s Karajan (DG and Unitel). But in the incandescent near-hysteria of Francesca da Rimini, Järvi’s clear-sightedness and avoidance of heavy rhetoric proves an ear-tweaking antidote to supercharged classics from the likes of Evgeny Svetlanov (Melodiya), Gustavo Dudamel (DG) and Leopold Stokowski (Everest).

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Julian Haylock