Presto News - 17th September 2012
Tchaikovsky’s Early Symphonies
If, like me, you’re very familiar with Tchaikovsky’s Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth symphonies, but have not really listened very much to the others, then you’ll be as pleased as I was to be able to rectify that, with a new set of the first three symphonies, conducted by Valery Gergiev and due out next Monday on LSO Live. Gergiev has recorded the latter three more than once (including a recent, musically-excellent live DVD with the Mariinsky Orchestra), but as far as I know this is the first time he has committed the earlier three to disc.
The real delight for me has been to get to know the First Symphony. Completed when Tchaikovsky was twenty-six but not performed in its entirety until over a year later, it is subtitled Winter Daydreams, and is his first major composition. There’s some ravishing playing here from the strings and solo oboe in the slow movement and (as one would expect from the LSO) thrilling brass moments throughout the work. Gergiev brings such a lightness and deftness of touch to the third movement in particular that I was convinced I was listening to a long-lost Dvořák symphony. It really is a fine piece that deserves to be heard much more often!
Similarly, the very opening of the Second Symphony has some wonderfully poised and elegant solos from horn and bassoon. The melody of these solos is apparently an old Ukrainian folksong, one of three quoted by Tchaikovsky and thereby giving rise to the symphony’s nickname of Little Russian (Ukraine was at that time frequently referred to as Little Russia). It also has an extremely jolly ending, with an amusingly chirpy piccolo solo and a dramatic tam-tam stroke before the final breathless gallop to the finishing post!
While I was doing my research for this newsletter, I noticed that critical consensus seems to rate the Third Symphony as the weakest of the lot. Somewhat tenuously nicknamed The Polish because of the use of polonaise rhythms in the last movement, it has a slightly unusual structure, with five movements rather than the more traditional four. I definitely felt when listening to it that on the whole it is less interesting than the others (no doubt many will disagree with me, but I thought that the long first movement could have done with some judicious pruning, as in my view the quality of the material doesn’t quite justify the length).
Having said that, the playing is so committed and expressive that I can’t imagine a better account than the one given here by the LSO, and I must admit I am rather fond of the fourth movement: a fast-paced, virtuosic scherzo, with strident trombone solos, dashing violins, and swirling, mercurial flutes and clarinets. The last movement is pretty exciting too, and to be fair does provide a satisfying conclusion to the piece.
Throughout all three works, I kept hearing phrases that reminded me of passages in the later symphonies, as well as other Tchaikovsky pieces (especially the opening of the last movement of the Second Symphony, which sounded as if it could have come straight out of the 1812 Overture!). I mean this not as a criticism, but rather to demonstrate that even in these earlier works there are already flashes of the composer’s distinctive style. These recordings make about as persuasive a case as one could hope for, and have really made me wonder how I could have overlooked these pieces for so long!
Tchaikovsky: Symphonies Nos. 1-3
London Symphony Orchestra, Valery Gergiev
James Longstaffe - firstname.lastname@example.org
17th September 2012
The Beethoven Journey: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 3
Leif Ove Andsnes (piano & direction), Mahler Chamber Orchestra
‘The Beethoven Journey’ is a collaboration with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, one of the world’s most acclaimed touring orchestras, on the move approximately 200 days each year. The 45 core members of the MCO come from 20 different countries and live all over Europe.
The journey began with the live recording of Beethoven’s Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 3 at Prague Spring Festival in the historic Rudolfinum building, where Andsnes is not only playing the piano but also directing the orchestra. Although Andsnes has an extensive discography ‘The Beethoven Journey’ is his first Beethoven recording.
Respighi: Violin Sonatas & Pieces
Tanja Becker-Bender (violin) & Péter Nagy (piano)
Respighi’s orchestral music is loved for its lavish, operatic ‘fireworks’, its pomp and circumstance. This recording of his music for violin and piano demonstrates a more tender and intimate side to the composer, and also shows what a master he was of melody. Respighi had many influences from all over Europe and an enthusiasm for German music which perhaps explains the pleasing echoes of Brahms and Schumann among others.
Monica Huggett (baroque violin), Ensemble Marsyas
Ensemble Marsyas’ debut recording on Linn features three of the extraordinary trio sonatas by the Bohemian composer Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745) for violin, two oboes, bassoon and continuo on period instruments.
Paavo Berglund conducts Sibelius
London Philharmonic Orchestra, Paavo Berglund
Finnish conductor Paavo Berglund, who passed away in January 2012, was one of the last remaining conductors with a direct personal connection to Sibelius. With the Second and Seventh Symphonies already released on the LPO Label, Berglund’s Sibelius legacy is further cemented in these live concert recordings with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, in which he vividly captures the natural flight of the Fifth Symphony and the freefall journey of the Sixth.
Fasch: Orchestral Works, Volume 3
Tempesta di Mare & Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra
This is the third and concluding volume in Tempesta di Mare’s series of orchestral works by Johann Friedrich Fasch, a contemporary of J.S. Bach and Telemann.
In his day, the works of Fasch – cantatas, concertos, symphonies, and chamber music – were performed extensively across the German-speaking world, and Fasch was held in great esteem by Bach, who owned copies of six of his orchestral suites and arranged at least one of his trio sonatas for organ.
Khatia Buniatishvili plays Chopin
Khatia Buniatishvili (piano)
A Liszt recital on Sony Classical last year was Khatia Buniatishvili’s critically acclaimed debut as a recording artist. After the great recognition of this first album, she is now following this up with an album that encompasses five works by Frédéric Chopin. This album marks her debut concerto recording with orchestra.
Bruckner: Symphony No. 3 in D minor ‘Wagner Symphony' (1889 version, ed. L. Nowak)
Swiss Romande Orchestra, Marek Janowski
Marek Janowski is well known for bringing fresh interpretations to familiar works and his partnership with this orchestra has worked well for Bruckner’s compositions “His way with Bruckner is brisk, energetic and lithe……” International Record Review
Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen - DVD
Bryn Terfel (Wotan), Jonas Kaufmann (Siegmund), Deborah Voigt (Brünnhilde), Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus, James Levine (Das Rheingold & Die Walküre), Fabio Luisi (Siegfried & Götterdämmerung)
Filmed at the world-famous Metropolitan Opera House in New York, in high definition: the award winning Robert Lepage production. Featuring Bryn Terfel as Wotan – universally recognized as the finest bass-baritone, and Wotan – of his generation. Also starring Deborah Voigt as Brunnhilde, and star tenor Jonas Kaufmann as Siegmund.
Blu-ray version also available here.
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