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Tchaikovsky: Symphony No.6 (Pathétique)

4.4 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Audio CD (May 11, 1987)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Deutsche Grammophon
  • ASIN: B000001G82
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #63,302 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
I have to give Lenny an A+ for originality, even if I don't agree with a number of the things he does on this CD. At least he's rethought the music, and contrary to what lesser-observant reviews below say, it's not *all* about slower tempi. He brings out the counterpoint and the rich appoggiaturas that usually get underplayed or swallowed in the lush wall of sound. The details that emerge are interesting and educational.

And I have a confession to make: I used to hate hate hate this CD. I held it up to ridicule as everything that's wrong with Bernstein. Now that classical maestros have gotten blander and blander, turning out identical, perfunctory, intellectually-lazy readings of the repertoire, the recording holds up much better, though I'm still not completely ready to drink the Kool Aid.

Bernstein approaches the first movement as a war between two themes or ideas or moods--the troubled first theme, which starts out tentatively and retreats, only to explode in volcanic fury and be extinguished, and the second theme, which is the more "feminine" theme that is very unsteady the first time around, and stronger and more self-assured in the recapitulation. Just listen to the two different ways Bernstein handles this theme--he's clearly thought this symphony through carefully, whether you agree with his conclusion or not.

I rather like his way with the first movement very much, with one notable exception: in the transition between the bombastic first theme and the return of the more floral second theme, there is a passage where the violins play a phrase and the trombones answer it and the violins play the phrase again lower and the trombones answer lower, etc. I'm writing this at work (don't tell my employer!
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I just heard this work performed in New York by the Philharmonic with Kurt Masur conducting. The only movement which musically seemed to come off was the 2nd. The coda of the first movement lacked dignity (because of the tempo's similarity with Masur's reading of the second tune), the third movement was the fastest march on record, and the finale was played like an allegretto. I kept going back to the Bernstein recording of the same symphony.

I've always felt this Bernstein recording of the Tchaikovsky 6th to be the one that devastates the emotions. Ultimately, he sees the first three movements as a preparation for the last. At the end of the last movement, the despair is complete.

Bernstein, when choosing slower than normal tempos, never lacked inner rhythm. His slow tempos move like no other. His interpretation of the final movement is extremely slow and personal. Yet it seems right to me. So right, in fact, I'm unable to hear any other tempo for it, so convincing an end it is to this incredibly anguished work.
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Format: Audio CD
Undoubtedly one of the most influential and emotional conductors of the 20th century, particularly in his final fifteen years of life, Leonard Bernstein was also, not surprisingly, the target of controversy during those final years as his conducting tempos got gradually slower and his conducting style became ever more flamboyant.

Probably no recording he made during those final years has engendered as much debate as this live 1986 recording of Tchaikovsky's 6th Symphony (the "Pathetique"). The final symphonic utterance of Russia's greatest composer, the "Pathetique" is without question one of the most emotional outpourings in music history, normally taking 45-50 minutes to perform. On this particular recording, however, Bernstein really lets loose with the emotion, complete with tortured tempo, and brings the "Pathetique" to the finish line in just under an hour.

That this should spawn such a huge controversy is not too terribly surprising, given Bernstein's history of flamboyance on the podium. Nevertheless, this live recording with his New York Philharmonic is one of incredible skill; the orchestra handles his style well as they always did, even when the first and last movements are done incredibly slow. The explosive scherzo/march that is the third movement is done here in a massive outburst that perhaps Tchaikovsky himself would never have dreamed of.

Like him or hate him during his final years, Bernstein really brings out the most in the popular repertoire HIS way. And this recording is as solid proof of that as any he ever made.
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Format: Audio CD
Make no mistake, this is an idiosyncratic performance and you are not likely to ever hear this symphony played this slow. But what passion and sound Bernstein coaxes from the NYPO! Another reviewer used the word "yearning", and that really is the perfect word for the feeling this performance evokes. This is the farthest thing from a calculated performance, but rather a live performance meant to move the listener. At least with this listener, it achieved that result.
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Format: Audio CD
The fastest performance of this symphony must by the NYPO under Dimitri Mitropolos. This is the slowest performance of the symphony ever. This is quite a feat! I always thought that the 4th movement of the Pathetique was the disappointment of the symphony, but I always felt that the slower the finale, the better the performance (example: Ashkanazy at 11 minutes.) But Bernstein goes an incredible 18 minutes and somehow this movement makes sense. Perhaps it is played like Mahler (which of course is a Bernstein specialty). The trick is to make it sound right and for it to work, and only Bernstein can do that. He does that in the 4th and 5th Symphonies also. The sound is brilliant and immediate but not very warm. I really like the sound that DG got in Avery Fischer Hall, but I bet nowadays with the 24-bit technology, etc. they could do better. For a standard interpretation, Ashkenazy heads the list. But this one is my favorite because for me, Bernstein makes it work like no other conductor.
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