Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 in B minor (Pathétique)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Mendelssohn,Tchaikovsky
LABELS: Signum
PERFORMER: Philharmonia Orchestra/ Charles Mackerras

We can’t have too much of the Indian Summer Sir Charles Mackerras enjoyed with the Philharmonia
in the last years of his life. Frankly I’d have prioritised his Brahms and Elgar Symphonies, but the Mendelssohn here is unmissable and the Tchaikovsky very fine indeed. Everything’s perfectly placed in the first movement, from the articulation and body of the crucial viola phrases at the beginning to the brass ensembles at the end. I could have done with just a little less from the timpani, though the opening smash of the development is exciting, and the ultimate thunderbolt startling, it’s surprising to find the usually score-faithful Mackerras allowing the extra swells in the doomsday climax.
The forward recording maybe overemphasises the percussionist’s role, and it should have given the excellent ensemble Mackerras elicits from the Philharmonia a little more perspective; something of the inner depths in Valery Gergiev’s first Kirov recording is missing. But the march-scherzo glows with unusual clarity, and while the tragic Finale doesn’t come close on the heels of euphoria as it ideally should, the middle of the movement is irreproachably paced. The 17-year-old Mendelssohn’s astounding précis of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream follows with a perfect, contrasting lightness. Mackerras gives the lovers and the mechanicals all the attentive energy of a young conductor, and seems to relish the violin donkey brays as well as the central terrors of the wood. Post-Thomas Beecham, you won’t hear a better performance of the overture than this. David Nice