Considering the enormous popularity of most of Tchaikovsky's orchestral works, his suites, which are attractive and characteristic, are oddly lacking in box-office appeal. Perhaps we should make a partial exception for the Mozartiana suite, but that is a different proposition from the others, consisting entirely of Mozart arrangements. The other three date from the time of his later symphonies, which makes them mature efforts. They are also, by the composer's own admission, an escape from the stress of symphonic composition. He was a born musical charmer as we all know, he turns on the charm for us here, and if we can find a good recorded set I suppose that relieves us too of the effort of trying to find live concert performances.
These performances date from as far back as 1966, but the restored sound is absolutely excellent. At that date the New Philharmonia Orchestra was in its magnificent prime, and it is a nostalgic pleasure in particular to hear the beautiful tone of its leader Hugh Bean in the third suite and the Mozartiana. I had already become familiar with the conductor Antal Dorati from a superb Rite of Spring that he did with the Minneapolis Orchestra and that was among my earliest acquisitions. He made a big impression on me with that, and over the decades since the impression has been unfailingly confirmed, in music ranging from Haydn to Karl Orff via numerous intermediate stops. One just never seems to go wrong with Dorati, and you will not go wrong with this set of his Tchaikovsky.
There is not much for a review to say, because it is all just about exactly right. The three `real Tchaikovsky' suites are all pleasant, and they get better as they go along. You will even hear a couple of accordions in the second of them, and I suppose we will never know now whether Bernard Shaw was right to be thrilled at the invention of the piano accordion, although obviously his optimistic forecasts for its use by classical composers have not come to much. The Mozartiana suite is a simple gesture of affection and respect from Tchaikovsky to the composer whom he revered above all others. I myself do not stress over issues of `authenticity', since quite clearly the only way to be fully authentic would have been to leave the music as Mozart wrote it in the first place. Tchaikovsky has orchestrated three piano pieces and also a piano arrangement by Liszt of the late Ave Verum motet. Those already familiar with Liszt`s messing around with Schubert, Verdi and doubtless others as well, will either be shocked or not at his similar effort here.
There is a liner note by the reliable John Warrack, the price is attractive, so if you like the music at all you can safely go for this set without lengthy market research.