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CD Review

Piotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky

DG/Eloquence 4826168
  • Symphony #1 in G minor "Winter Daydreams", Op. 13 1
  • Symphony #2 in C minor, "Little Russian", Op. 17 2
  • Symphony #4 in F minor, Op. 36 3
  • Suite "The Nutcracker", Op. 71a) 4
1Boston Symphony Orchestra/Michael Tilson Thomas
2New Philharmonia Orchestra/Claudio Abbado
3Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Claudio Abbado
4 Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Ferdinand Leitner
Deutsche Grammophon Eloquence 4826168 2CDs
Also available on SACD:

Australian Eloquence has released six discs this year that give collectors a full set of the Tchaikovsky symphonies and various orchestral works cobbled together from the Deutsche Grammophon back catalog. The chief attraction of this generous twofer set is Symphonies #1 and 4. Although both Michael Tilson Thomas and Claudio Abbado went on to have illustrious careers, their earliest recordings are probably their best. This is especially true of Abbado, who went on to record his own complete cycle for Sony Classical with the Chicago Symphony. Critical consensus typically pegs those performances as "good, but not great" (Jed Distler), but there's plenty to enjoy here.

Tilson Thomas' excellent Tchaikovsky #1 was last seen coupled to his equally terrific Debussy Images on the Originals series. Almost all of his work in Boston was exceptional, and until Universal boxes up his early work (he hasn't died or turned 90 yet, so there's obviously no rush) we can only thank Eloquence for placing this performance within the context of a cycle. This remains one of the finer performances of a wonderful work, and the sound remains good, if inevitably dated. As for Abbado's Fourth, it's great to hear him at the height of his powers. This is a powerful reading, yet also polished and full of character. Is it the best Tchaikovsky from Vienna? Maybe not, but I doubt anybody will be too disappointed to own such fine music making.

Everything else is basically a bonus. Abbado's "Little Russian' has him working with the New Phiharmonia, and they've sounded better in this music under Muti and others. The conception is good, but everything is a touch too sluggish and the music turns clunky in a work that's already prone to structural issues. The outer movements aren't quite hot enough, though there are many fine moments to enjoy throughout. Finally, Leitner's largely forgotten recording of the Nutcracker Suite is fine, but both Karajan and (especially) Rostropovich did finer still. Despite the various recording dates, changing locations, and differences in quality, this is still a great deal, especially if you're in the market for the first two symphonies.

Copyright © 2017, Brian Wigman