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CD Review

Piotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky

  • Symphony #6 in B minor "Pathétique", Op. 74 (1893)
  • Fantasy Overture in B minor "Roméo & Juliet" (1869)
Philadelphia Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy
RCA Sliver Seal 60908
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There are three Ormandy recordings of the Symphony #6 "Pathétique" that are well-known. The first, from Columbia (now Sony) is a classic and is loved by countless listeners. This present RCA issue is also very fine, and features "Roméo and Juliet", a work that Ormandy seemingly missed in his extensive survey of Tchaikovsky for Columbia. The third is a digital Delos issue that nobody really cares for; Ormandy was near the end of both his career and his life, and it shows. His RCA releases have not enjoyed wide circulation outside Japan, though you can now get the RCA cycle (with the Sony concertos) in a bare-bones import box from Amazon. Should you only want the late symphonies, ArkivMusic's reissue program will serve you well.

I don't quite understand why Ormandy and Philadelphia felt the need to re-record their core repertoire for RCA after leaving Columbia Masterworks, and I understand even less why so few of those recordings are around for us to enjoy. The conductor's late Sibelius and Dvořák are all outstanding (the "New World" on Columbia was in London, the RCA more importantly recorded in Philadelphia). As for Tchaikovsky, Ormandy and his charges set down all six symphonies and the "Manfred" (the questionable "Symphony #7" premiered on Columbia). The playing is typically beautiful throughout this disc. Perhaps the Sony account – now on Essential Classics – is a touch more energized, but I can't imagine anyone not enjoying this album as well. Besides, this is the easiest way to get the conductor's "Roméo and Juliet". This Silver Seal release shouldn't be too hard to track down from other sources besides ArkivMusic, which is more than I can say for the other installments of the cycle. This is a great disc that veteran collectors may want to make friends with again.

Copyright © 2015, Brian Wigman