This is Tchaikovsky in the best possible light, combining virtuoso voltage with the romantic tenderness that the composer requires. The Dallas Symphony Orchestra has had my respect for a long time, and Jaap van Zweden blew me away with his coupling of Beethoven's 5th and 7th symphonies (DSOLive001) also reviewed here on ClassicalNet. These performances not only hearken back to the rugged Russian school of music-making, but they also show Zweden and his band to have a total grasp of the idiom.
What was so impressive about this team's Beethoven release was the extraordinary freshness that seemingly illuminated those scores. Tchaikovsky's 4th is another warhorse, and again there is a welcome sense of newness about the whole project, as if the Dallas Symphony was performing this great work for the first time. I've previously commented on how Jaap van Zweden's experience as a top-tier concertmaster makes him an ideal conductor, and that's even more in evidence here. The symphony is incredibly exciting; a red-hot, spur-of-the-moment occasion that is thankfully forever ours to own. Outer movements rival Leningrad's best for sheer weight and daringly powerful conception. The finale is particularly outstanding in this regard. Inner movements are lush and wonderfully phrased. Taken as a performance, there's little on the market that's this good, least of all live.
The coupling is a treat; Tchaikovsky's Suites get almost zero attention from anyone. Lord knows why not, as they are brimming with beautiful tunes and all the imagination of the ballets. To see it shared with such a fine reading of the symphony is nothing less than having your cake and eating it, too. The 4th suite in particular is a favorite, not only because it quotes many famous Mozart tunes, but because it does it so well. Check out the heartwarming take on the Ave Verum Corpus and try not to smile. The rest of the suite is equally charming, and again the Dallas orchestra plays magnificently.
The sound is problematic. No, it's not as bad as more experienced critics have said. But nobody has mentioned that it's particularly good, either. Individual instruments are clear – a must in both pieces – but the strings sound muffled at times and the climaxes are boomy and unpleasant. It surely detracts from the symphony, but is less of a problem in the more reserved suite. Both the very top range and the bottom prove to be unimpressive as well. However, on simply artistic merit, this is a worthy tribute to one of America's hidden gems.
Copyright © 2013, Brian Wigman