Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky: Symphony No. 6 in B minor (Pathétique); Pulcinella Suite

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky
LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
WORKS: Symphony No. 6 in B minor (Pathétique); Pulcinella Suite
PERFORMER: NDR SO/Günter Wand
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 61190 2 DDD
Here, side by side, are the two extremes of Tchaikovsky interpretation, the score-faithful and the libertarian, neither unfortunately a model of its kind. Wand at 80 still cares for intense, human passion – as his Bruckner Eight at the Proms so vividly proved – but his orchestra is a middle-way team hardly capable of etching in dark, heavy colours between the well-pared lines. It’s a live performance, so lapses in ensemble and brass intonation are to be expected – but where is the electricity? Towards climaxes, the players seem to be forming into an iron fist, but never quite strain beyond well-behaved forte, and there’s no shading down to the whispers of clarinet and bassoon in the wake of the first movement’s second subject. Litton’s Bournemouth woodwind oblige, but the famous melody itself is taken slowly and oddly shaped into the bargain, dragging when the composer asks for a pressing forward and vice versa. The Adagio lamentoso, masterfully maintained at virtually a uniform tempo, makes its tragic point yet doesn’t strike one as wrung from the orchestra’s soul: therein, at the moment, lies the difference between a Litton and a Temirkanov.

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Litton’s first movement development, starting with what sounds like a helping hand for fierce lower strings (so naturally good elsewhere), fails to hang together; Wand’s more assured sense of rubato never shows the joins and has its generous moments in the gracious waltz, smiling through tears. His companion-piece is a rather poker-faced Pulcinella Suite, more absorbing in detail than in the main melodic event and irreparably damaged by a frail trumpeter in the Toccata, while Litton’s Romeo and Juliet is more of a piece than his Pathétique, atmospherically served as always by the recording. David Nice