Rafael Kubelík's recordings for EMI has received short shrift from various critics and were quite neglected for a long period time. However it is good to have these Tchaikovsky recordings back in fine refurbished sound and the VPO do provide good interpretations of these much touted works.
The Fourth Symphony is the least satisfactory of the three. A slightly wayward first movement has Kubelík sometimes losing the grasp and the Vienna players are sometimes on auto pilot. The Andantino features some lovely wind playing whilst the Scherzo is also quite delectable. Kubelík lets his hair down for the Finale but there are much more preferable performances elsewhere from the likes of Maazel, Karajan and Markevitch of similar vintage.
The Fifth Symphony is of somewhat finer quality all around. Kubelík handles the transition in the First movement with wonderful vitality whilst his Andante is lovingly heart-on-sleeve, strikingly dissimilar to Mravinsky but no less effective. The Finale is also superbly handled with the Vienna players on song and extremely alert especially in the triumphant coda.
In the 'Pathétique', Kublik prefers a measured approach that is close to Markevitch's brilliant relay on Philips. However I do feel that the Czech conductor lingers far too much on some moments in the core, thus undermining the structural and coherence of the work. However it is again a pleasure to listen to the great Vienna players who make the work sound exceptional.
EMI's recordings come up very well in these fine Testament remasters and one does enjoy reading the notes that show such intransigence on behalf of the EMI board. Those were indeed other times in the recording industry!
Copyright © 2003, Gerald Fenech