Tchaikovsky • Wagner
Wagner: Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde; Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4
South Netherlands Philharmonic/Dmitri Liss
Fuga Libera FUG 754 58:04 mins
Only now in its fifth season, the South Netherlands Philharmonic typifies the Dutch orchestral strengths of tonal integration, timbral blend and purring sophistication. The immensely experienced Dmitri Liss, the orchestra’s first chief conductor, has made a fine job of moulding a corporate outfit from this predominately youthful group of players, preferring elegant, long lines and cultured internal balancing to superheated outbursts of sonic amplitude.
Edited from two live performances given on consecutive evenings in Breda and Eindhoven, the orchestra proves more than a match for the technical challenges set by Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony. As recorded, the strings (violins particularly) may lack trenchancy, but are immaculately internally balanced, the woodwind segue their various lines with sensitivity, while the brass terrace their sound with thrilling bass extension. Even when the notes start flying – most conspicuously in the finale – there is an overall cohesion and sense of firm control that is undeniably impressive and at times immersive. All that is lacking, compared to the finest versions available – most notably Karajan on film (Unitel/DG) and Mravinsky (DG) – is a visceral sense of sustained emotional thrust, of the music exploding out of the speakers with unrestrained verve and energy.
Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde exhibits a different kind of emotionalism, in which the music’s sensual pulsing appears to be sustained under superhuman pressure. Again, one cannot help but admire the Netherlanders’ overall accomplishment in pacing Wagner’s rapt harmonic suspensions with such skill and expertise, even if the darker side of the emotional narrative proves somewhat elusive.