What is this symphony "about"? This is the question posed by Mme. Von Meck to Tchaikovsky. His original response was vague. Later he did offer a program that indicated that the opening fanfare is "Fate". Hans Keller pointed out that this idea links Tchaikovsky's 4th with Beethoven's Fifth. I read this information in Michael Steinberg's The Symphony and thought it appropriate in light of the recordings discussed herein.
I will discuss the good stuff first. This is a very good recording. The woodwinds in particular are delicious. Detail is excellent. This is a Tchaikovsky 4th written by the composer of ballets. It is poetic.
That is also the problem. The very opening motif is not the sound of Fate. Listen to Mravinsky and the Leningrad Symphony (on DG at one time but I am not sure if it is available any more) and you hear the call of Fate not unlike Beethoven. His interpretation is a more 'standard' recommendation. If you want real fire in the belly, though, listen to Stokowski's recording on Vanguard (8012)! The opening IS Fate, it is Beethoven's 5th. The strings ooze emotion. There are healthy doses of portamento, rubato… all the magician's tools to weave Stokowski's spell. If you think it would be impossible to generate any more intensity in the 4th, you should check out Stokowski's NBC Symphony Orchestra recording from 1941 on The Leopold Stokowski Society's Cala 505. The pizzicato strings in the scherzo are just simply stunning.
Well, I could go on. The "Roméo and Juliet" recording suffers from comparisons too. I really wanted to like this recording. I like seeing less-known American orchestras being recorded. It is kind of like preferring Minor League Baseball to the Majors. Marin Alsop has had a lot of good things said about her. It will be interesting to read what other reviewers have to say. At the end of the road, however, I have to take a different route; one more dangerous and exciting and emotional.
Copyright © 2002, Robert Stumpf II