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 Recording of the Week  Vasily Petrenko completes his cycle of Tchaikovsky Symphonies

Last June I wrote very enthusiastically about the first instalment of Tchaikovsky symphonies from Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, and I remember being eager to hear the follow-up volume. Having now heard it, I'm happy to say that it continues in the vein of excellence set up by the previous set!

Vasily Petrenko
Vasily Petrenko

Here we have the remaining three symphonies, and we kick off in fine form with the Fourth Symphony. One of the things that impressed me most throughout all the symphonies was the way that Petrenko sculpts the sound of his Liverpool players, and this is particularly true of the brass section. You can hear from the very opening how they make a nice fat sound, with some pleasingly robust horns, and yet at no point are they permitted to become overwhelmingly or distractingly loud. He has clearly given a lot of thought to weight of sound, and it pays off because it allows the warmth of the strings to come through without sacrificing brass strength.

As well as some of the heftier moments, I was struck by how he also makes the music dance in places, especially the woodwind contributions, which have a real poise to them. The louder passages are juxtaposed with some beautiful pianissimo playing too, not least delicate violins and timpani at one point in the first movement, whilst the pizzicato strings at the start of the third movement are so quietly graceful that when the oboe enters after about ninety seconds it comes as quite a shock! The last movement is pretty fast, but crucially it never sounds too fast, and again everything is balanced beautifully so that even the descending scale motif from trombones and tuba maintains its power but doesn't obliterate the rest of the orchestra.

If the Fourth and Sixth symphonies have firmly established themselves as favourites on the concert platform, I think it's fair to say that the Third has had a more difficult time of it. As Petrenko acknowledges, it's a somewhat tricky symphony to get right: it has a slightly unusual structure in that it consists of five movements rather than the usual four, and although in terms of running time it is no longer than any of the others, with quite a lot of repeated material it's difficult for a conductor and orchestra to shape the music and to keep it interesting. I have to say that I think Petrenko succeeds in this respect completely: there's some characterful playing on offer, such as the bassoon and horn solos in the third movement, and with some incisive, rhythmic playing (above all in the fifth and final movement), I'm pleased to say I was never bored.

In all three of these symphonies there is some super woodwind playing, not least in the first movement of the Sixth, which is littered with exquisite clarinet solos. I mentioned in relation to the Fourth Symphony how Petrenko allows the music to dance where necessary, and this is true here too: the rhythms of the second movement are beautifully pointed, and he really brings out the feeling of an off-kilter waltz.

I've included a link to the earlier volume as well in case you missed out the first time round. Furthermore, Petrenko generously agreed to chat to my colleague Katherine earlier in the week about his approach to these symphonies, so if I haven't already managed to win you over then follow the link below and let the maestro himself persuade you!

Tchaikovsky: Symphonies Nos. 3, 4 & 6

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Vasily Petrenko

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC

Tchaikovsky: Symphonies Nos. 1, 2 & 5

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Vasily Petrenko

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC