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CD Review

Piotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky

  • Symphony #6 "Pathétique" in B minor, Op. 74 (1893)
  • Fantasy Overture in B minor "Roméo & Juliet" (1869)
Kirov Orchestra/Valery Gergiev
Philips 456580-2 DDD 69:15
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This is one of the most expansive Tchaikovsky Sixths of recent times. Most of its length, however, is due to the 20-minute-plus first movement, which comes across with plenty of passion and intensity. The contrasts between the "fate" theme and the big passionate melody are powerfully effective: you know the stakes here are grim and life-threatening. The other movements fall within normal ranges of tempo, though the finale, at 11:39, is a bit on the slow side, too. Still, this recording is nothing like the nearly hour-long Bernstein (DG) effort, with its slow-motion finale that lasted over seventeen minutes! Gergiev imparts a sense of desperation to the last movement's lamentations, and he captures the colors and ambivalences of the inner movements to near perfection. The Kirov Orchestra plays with total commitment throughout, and Philips' sonics are warm and vivid.

There have been many fine renditions of this symphony over the years, including Karajan (on several EMI and DG recordings), Mravinsky (DG), Ormandy (RCA), and Pletnev (DG). In the budget category, recently there was a surprisingly fine performance from the unlikely source of Yehudi Menuhin in the RPO series on Intersound. For sheer drama and beauty, though, this Gergiev effort would be hard to beat. Certainly, this is one of the finest Tchaikovsky Sixths of the stereo era.

In the Roméo and Juliet Fantasy Overture Gergiev delivers another stellar reading. And again, his players turn in fine work and the sound reproduction is excellent. Gergiev's recent Tchaikovsky Fifth, with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, received high praise, as have his many operatic forays into the works of Prokofieff, Rimsky-Korsakov and others. This new Tchaikovsky Sixth seems to offer further evidence of his preeminence in Russian repertory. All in all, this is a splendid release.

Copyright © 2000, Robert Cummings