Tchaikovsky’s ‘The Snow Maiden’ conducted by Kristjan Järvi

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COMPOSERS: Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky
LABELS: Sony Classical
ALBUM TITLE: Tchaikovsky
WORKS: The Snow Maiden
PERFORMER: Vsevolod Grivnov (tenor), Annely Peebo (mezzo-soprano); MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra; MDR Leipzig Choir/Kristjan Järvi
CATALOGUE NO: Sony Classical 88875176562

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Tchaikovsky had an enduring fondness for his incidental music to The Snow Maiden, composed for the play’s premiere in 1873. Yet for all its length, it’s far from his sophisticated ‘symphonic’ style, and includes several hypnotically repetitive songs and choruses typical of late 19th-century representations of ancient Slavic and folk music. Yet there is also much quintessential Tchaikovsky in terms of orchestral colour, and some haunting melodic invention as in ‘Melodrama’, Kristjan Järvi’s slow tempo heightening its pathos. In contrast, Järvi makes the dance of the skomorokhi (named here ‘Dance of the Tumblers’) a riotous occasion, driving his orchestra at virtuosic speed.

It is altogether a lively and engaging performance, though a bit short of ideal. Vsevolod Grivnov is an adequate tenor, but mezzo-soprano Annely Peebo has an over-ripe voice; Irina Mishura-Lekhtman offers more focused and agile singing in the alternative Chandos recording conducted by Kristjan’s father, Neeme. Nor is the MDR Leipzig Radio Choir consistently in tune, though it makes a fine impression in the Shrove Tuesday Procession (or ‘Carnival Procession’). The booklet includes a short note by Kristjan about the ‘Nordic Seasons’ series of which this performance was part, plus a brief outline of the plot, but – unlike the Chandos CD – provides no texts for the sung numbers.

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Daniel Jaffé