I agree with the lead reviewer that Mariss Jansons can fell into the trap of attending to beautiful sounds at the expense of excitement, to the point that I've wondered, hearing some of his tamer recordings, what the music actually means to him. but here, as a St. Petersburg-trained conductor in the lineage of the great Mravinsky, he's on solid ground. The two mournful Sixths of Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich share a musical lineage too, since both composers returned again and again to the tragic possibilities of the symphony form (only the postwar symphonist Karl amadeus Hartmann pursued the same track as compulsively). Shostakovich had more reason, we might suppose, to express the sorrow of his times, but Tchaikovsky may be the more complete composer, since his well of inner grief didn't prevent him from writing his three vibrant, joyous ballets.
Jansons' complete Shostakovich cycle on EMI, currently out of print, suffered from various drawbacks: it took years to complete, moved from one orchestra to another, and was interrupted by a major heart attack that could have ended his career. He achived no triumphant performances to rival Mravinsky, Kondrashin, or Bernstein. Amends were made, partially, by an excellent Sym. #7 "Leningrad" with the Concertgebouw on their house label. Equally fine s this live sixth form Munich, with the Bavarian Radio SO sounding magnificent and captured in state-of-the-art sound, as we've come to expect from BR Klassik. The high point of the score is the opening Largo (the first movement of the Tchaikovsky is also a slow movement, of course); here the playing pulls out all the stops in its intensity, and although Jansons' timing of 15:44 is a full four minutes faster than Vasily Petrenko's version, both conductors are successful in their own way - Petrenko achieves an agonized inwardness, Jansons a grand lyrical sweep.
The two other movements have always been a bit baffling - both a quick, short, and zany, as if the composer couldn't find a way beyond the tragic Largo except to clown in the face of death. Mravinsky gives these interludes a note of biting defiance, which I think is right, and Jansons doesn't miss the opportunity for eeriness and sarcasm. His woodwind soloist also play much better than Mravinsky's Soviet counterparts. The Rossini-like gallop of the finale is at once elegant and exciting. All told, a great success.
For anyone whose memory goes back far enough, Jansons' first early triumph on records was a "Pathetique" with the Oslo Phil., which became a great favorite of British reviewers. It never quite caught fire for me, but I was curious to hear the remake twenty years on. This is a score where hoping to find the best recording is defeated at the start. I've never heard a performance that wasn't a sobering event, whether it drew tears or not. The tragic power of the music can't be entirely disarmed. The greatest readings amplify this impact - I'm thinking especially of Furtwangler, Reiner, Mravinsky, the first Bernstein from New York, and Gergiev with the Vienna Phil. (Gergiev is ubiquitous now, but his first appearance to conduct Vienna in the last three Tchaikovsky symphonies was considered a remarkable occasion).
If you are in the Russian musical lineage, as Jansons is, even though a Latvian, I think they burn your visa if you conduct an indifferent "Pathetique," and this one isn't. Jansons is enough of a technician, and devoted enough to beautiful sounds, that he keeps a certain distance from the symphony's wrenching emotions. The reading is warm and involved throughout; my attention didn't wander, as it tended to while listening to Jansons Tchaikovsky fifth with this orchestra. But too much is urbane to rank among the great "Pathetiques."
In all, this CD will most appeal, I think, to anyone who wants both works in gorgeous sound and with world-class playing. The Shostakovich stands on its own, though, as do many moments in the Tchaikovsky, such as the totally convincing 5/4 waltz movement, which is beautifully supple and alive. Jansons' understatement of the tragedy in the outer movements may be considered a positive by other listeners, if not me.