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The fourth volume of the BIS Tchaikovsky cycle focuses on Symphony No. 2, nicknamed for its use of themes from the folk music of Ukraine (‘Little Russia’). The first presentation of the work, at a private gathering, was a welcome success for the young Tchaikovsky in 1872: ‘The entire assembled company almost tore me apart with delight, and Mme Korsakov, with tears in her eyes, asked if she might arrange it for piano four hands.’ Even so, seven years later, during a stay in Rome, Tchaikovsky reworked the symphony radically.
As on previous discs, the symphony is combined with shorter, and often less well-known, works. The Overture to Ostrovsky’s play The Storm – later used by Janacek for his Kata Kabanova – was written as a holiday assignment during Tchaikovsky’s studies at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, and earned him his teacher’s disapproval for the extravagant, Berlioz-inspired scoring.
The Overture in F was also a student work, which Tchaikovsky adapted for large orchestra when offered a welcome opportunity to have his work performed in Moscow. Just a couple of years later, he received a prestigious commission for a work to mark the wedding of the Tsarevich Alexander with the Danish Princess Dagmar.
In the resulting Festive Overture he used motifs from the Danish and Russian national anthems, finally letting the Danish anthem resound in all its glory, in a splendid Maestoso. Even in later life Tchaikovsky regarded this piece highly, preferring it to the much more popular ‘1812’ Overture.
The Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra under its principal conductor emeritus Neeme Järvi gives all in this interesting programme.
Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 2 in C minor, Op. 17, "Little Russian" (1879 version)
I. Andante sostenuto - Allegro vivo
II. Andantino marziale, quasi moderato
III. Scherzo: Allegro molto vivace
IV. Finale: Moderato assai - Allegro vivo
Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky: Overture in F major (1866 version for full orchestra)
Overture in F major (1866 version for full orchestra)
Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky: Festival Overture, Op. 15 (1892 version)
Festival Overture in D major on the Danish National Hymn, Op. 15 (1892 version)
Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky: The Storm, Op. 76
Groza (The Storm), Op. 76
“The Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, under their longtime music director Neeme Järvi, give an outstanding performance of the Little Russian Symphony, beautifully played and paced and immaculately recorded, though it lacks a little on felicitous detail. Järvi's flowing tempo for the long opening Andante is reassuring and his free expressiveness is most persuasive, the crisp attack of the Allegro, with its Ukrainian themes, bringing echoes of Tchaikovsky's ballet music. Though the Andantinomarziale is on the brisk side, the rhythmic lift again is most persuasive. The Scherzo is fresh and light and the opening of the finale has ample weight to contrast with the lightness of the second subject, its cross-rhythms suggesting Cuban rhythms. The way Järvi presses forward as the climaxes build adds to the excitement. The overture inspired by Ostrovsky's play TheStorm is by far the most inspired of the three and is given a powerful performance. The Overture in F is a student work whose deft orchestration points to the mature Tchaikovsky while the one on the Danish national anthem suffers from its relatively uninteresting theme. It's not nearly as striking as the Russian national anthem, with which it is entwined – rather as the Marseillaise is in the 1812. Tchaikovsky thought it a much more successful piece though it is hard to justify the pompous final repeat of the Danish theme, fortissimo, even in a performance as well judged as Järvi's.”
“…an outstanding performance of the Little Russian Symphony, beautifully played and paced and immaculately recorded… The overture inspired by Ostrovsky's play The Storm… is by far the most inspired of the three and is given a powerful performance.”