Vasily Petrenko conducts Tchaikovsky’s Symphonies Nos 1, 2 & 5

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COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky
LABELS: Onyx
ALBUM TITLE: Tchaikovsky
WORKS: Symphonies: No. 1 (Winter Daydreams); No. 2 (Little Russian); No. 5 in E minor
PERFORMER: Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Vasily Petrenko
CATALOGUE NO: ONYX 4150 

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Alive and articulate, these three performances remind us that it’s just as possible to be stunned by an original interpretation of a familiar symphony (the Fifth) as it is to be refreshed by a bright-eyed approach to less familiar works (the First and Second). Each begins as it means to go on. ‘Winter Daydreams’ kicks off with a phrasing of the spooky woodwind theme reminding us how Tchaikovsky sticks in a staccato note in an otherwise lyrical melody. There’s an equally well shaped horn solo for the first of the Ukrainian folk songs in the disparagingly-subtitled ‘Little Russian’ Symphony, while the two low-register clarinets at the start of the Fifth set the atmospheric tone. 

Vasily Petrenko is fearless in his very particular sense of movement, moving in and out of the bucolic trio of the Second’s scherzo with great skill, opting convincingly for a faster tempo in the central sequence of the great Andante cantabile; its final burgeoning of passion is more exciting and powerful than any performance I know, Mravinsky’s included. Are these live recordings, part of the RLPO’s Tchaikovsky season, or made in Liverpool’s splendid hall after the events? Onyx doesn’t say, and it’s only an assumption that 3, 4, 6 and Manfred are to follow. There’s certainly room at the top of a crowded market; this release is on the same level as Petrenko’s Shostakovich series for Naxos. One quibble: the strings are a little too upfront when, for instance, they should be backgrounding the horn climax of the First’s gorgeously melodious slow movement. But there’s still an incomparable vividness throughout.

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David Nice