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Tchaikovsky: Symphonies Nos. 4-6
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Outstanding Recording: ''Gergiev directs performances which are totally gripping... his combination of hypnotic gaze and fluttering fingers conjuring up intensely beautiful playing... The performances here are immensely rewarding, expertly crafted and will easily bear repeated viewing.'' --International Record Review
''The Russian maestro's identification with his countryman's music is total... the sound, whether in stereo or surround, is first class.'' --Gramophone
Choc de l'annee & Choc du mois: ''Russian music has found a champion in Valery Gergiev... To see him conduct Symphonies Nos.4-6 at the Salle Pleyel, Paris, is an experience that is both intense and unique... Everything is fascinating, his expressions, the quick reactions from the orchestra, the incredible sonority... This interpretation attains something that is normally difficult: a naturalness.'' --Classica (France)
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Tchaikovsky 4: Ormandy/Philadelphia (Sony); Bernstein/New York (Sony; 1975); Beecham/Royal Philh. (EMI, 1958).
Tchaikovsky 5: Monteux/Boston (RCA); Ormandy/Philadelphia (Sony); Bernstein/New York (Sony; 1960)
Tchaikovsky 6: Munch/Boston (RCA); Ormandy/Philadelphia (Sony); Karajan/Berlin Philh. (DG, 1976)
There is also a DG DVD of Karajan/Berlin in Tchaikovsky 4, 5, and 6 (r. 1973) which is filmed part live/part studio, which I find very satisfying. It also costs 40% less than the Gergiev, which is BluRay; Karajan is regular DVD.
Gergiev/Mariinsky is worth seeing/hearing, but did not MOVE me, as do the above recordings.
Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra, Saint Petersburg, Valery Gergiev, conductor
It appears to me that composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky remains the undisputed giant icon of Russian music for its people, even to this day despite, ironcially, the resurgence of government-encouraged homophobia rampant throughout the country. His symphonies Nos. 4, 5, and 6 certainly confirm that.
For better or worse, Tchaikosvky's music continues to be popular with conductors and recording companies, and a remarkable number of recordings have been produced over the years. The difficulty is that his music is romantic and requires necessary interpretation by the conductors. This has been met with varying success. Without my naming them, I recall a Soviet-era recording of the “Pathétique” that was uninspired and plodding. I also heard a former Italian opera-conductor who produced a sing-song rendition that lacked the symphony's solemnity and dignity. Other orchestras have produced admired performances that still lacked the full extent of Tchaikosvky's expression of angst, depression, and resignation in his “Pathétique.”
For many years, I was most impressed with the half-century-old recording by Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. At last in 2010, conductor Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra have performed and recorded, what I feel to be in my humble opinion, the definitive interpretation of those three symphonies and especially the “Pathétique.” Listening to the orchestra and watching Gergieve conduct leads me to believe that he has plumbed the very depths of Tchaikosvky's mind and soul. Every note, every nuance is expressed with deep understanding and empathy. I must believe that, like many of us since the fall of the Soviet Union, Gergiev knows the facts behind Tchaikosvky's premature death just days after his final symphony's performance, and Gergiev performs the symphony like a memorial to this giant in the world of music, this tragic man.
Anyone who truly cares for other people must be empathetic for Tchaikovsky and regret his having lead such a tortured life. His brother Modest speculated that composing music was “an attempt to drive out the somber demons that had so long plagued him.” We might wish that the man never have suffered so greatly. Yet, without a life of suffering, we might never have had given to us such extraordinary music. I'll go further; it is safe to say that his “Pathétique,” this “symphony of defeat,” and especially the suicidal fourth movement, never would have been written as it was. As for myself, who have appreciated the beauty and power of the “Pathétique” for so long, it is a sad consolation to have my sense, from the very first hearing, of the personal angst and resignation that Tchaikovsky was expressing, confirmed. I heard his voice; I felt his despair, especially now with the Gergiev's insightful performances.
The sound is excellent, albeit slightly sterile, sounding almost as if it were recorded in a studio.
The video is poor, the worst I've encountered in a symphonic performance Blu-ray. A diffusion filter appears to have been used, and it softens the image, reduces detail and adds an unfortunate bloom to the whites.
Worse yet, the direction, camerawork and editing are awful. There are a lot of frequent cuts and overlapping images. At times, a freeze frame is used -- a very gimmicky effect that pulls you right out of the moment and makes you aware of the director. It made me appreciate even more the crystal-clear, well-directed EuroArts Blu-rays, which successfully convey a "you are there" quality that adds greatly to the excitement.
This was a lost opportunity.