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A ‘tremendously vibrant’ performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Tchaikovsky
Symphony No. 6
MusicAeterna/Teodor Currentzis
Sony Classical 88985404352

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Few performances of Tchaikovsky’s angst-ridden symphonic masterpiece have encapsulated the overwhelming passion of its musical argument to the same degree as this brilliantly recorded account. Teodor Currentzis has a clear and unified vision of the music’s trajectory, his interpretation grabbing you by the scruff of the neck and compelling you to follow its relentlessly tortured path from first bar to last.

Much is revealed in the claustrophobic way Currentzis projects the brief slow introduction. The few silences are hesitant and halting, but packed with expectancy, whereas the first sforzando marking in the fifth bar has a terrifying almost painful physical impact. The ensuing Allegro non troppo emerges tentatively from the gloom, and seems initially to be understated. But this is all part of a carefully constructed process that notches up the tension by several degrees once we get to the development section, which is projected here with brutal aggression. We then reach a veritable boiling point at the movement’s climax – a passage delivered with shattering intensity.

There’s a similar strategy to the way the third movement unfolds. For all the quiet scurrying musical activity of the opening, it is already evident that more sinister forces lurk beneath the surface. But these only fully reveal themselves near the end of the movement as we plunge headlong into the full-scale assault of the March theme, here sounding even more desperate and hysterical than often is the case. After this, the descent into the abyss in the Finale is noble and dignified rather than self-pitying, though the finals sforzando accents in the strings have such visceral impact that you can envisage them as veritable stabs to the heart. Here we return in effect full circle to the darkly scored music that opens the work.

From the sonorous lower strings at the opening to the lacerating stopped horns near the close, the playing of Currentzis’s MusicAeterna is simply breathtaking. Even in the most ferociously challenging passages, such as in the middle of the first movement and the third movement March, ensemble is well-nigh perfect with not a string spiccato  out of joint, and the woodwind articulation in some of Tchaikovsky’s characteristically elaborate writing is tremendously vibrant.

Most remarkable of all is the clarity of sound achieved here which ensures every single layer in Tchaikovsky’s miraculously inventive orchestration can be heard. You have to admire the sheer daring of Currentzis’s interpretation which follows Tchaikovsky’s extremely wide range of dynamic markings to the letter, even though I must admit that there are also times when this performance seems to cross beyond the threshold of audibility, a good example being the almost imperceptibly rumbling cellos and basses just before the return of the second idea in the first movement.

Prospective purchasers of this recording might feel short-changed that Currentzis offers no coupling to the Symphony. But they should not worry. This performance is so devastatingly powerful that it would be difficult to imagine hearing anything else alongside it.

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Erik Levi

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Listen to an excerpt of this recording here.