Under Maestro Kitajenko’s direction, the opening fanfare sounds elegant and regal, developing smoothly into its flowing, ballet-like second and third segments. Here, Tchaikovsky tells us that "life is a constant alternation between hard reality and fleeting dreams of happiness." Kitajenko might have contrasted these ideas more than he does, his reading a bit on the leisurely side, yet he draws out the melodies confidently, leaving us with an unmistakeable feeling of optimism. What's more, the venerable Gurzenich Orchestra Cologne play richly and effectively for him, giving the performance a rightful luster and polish.
While I’ve never thought the Andantino that follows as one of the composer’s most inspired pieces of writing, I admit it does help bring the music (and the listener) back down to earth after the exhilaration of the first movement, and in a few minutes it does finally open up nicely. It is, however, this second movement that works best for Kitajenko. His relatively relaxed approach appropriately expresses the music's overall tranquility and its touch of Russian melancholy.
There follows a playful little Scherzo, providing further relief before the big finale. Kitajenko projects the pizzicato rhythms of the movement with a charming ease, his gentle view of these capricious imaginings as delightful as any you'll hear.
Then there’s the concluding movement with its famous Russian folk song and its abundance of energy. It is really only in this Finale, which the composer marked "Allegro con fuoco" (fast and fiery) that Kitajenko probably could have shown a more red-blooded attitude. Not that he doesn't build up a heady sense of excitement at times, especially at the end, but the interpretation doesn't always produce the joy one might expect. Still, I quibble; Kitajenko does for the most part have the measure of the music and imparts to it a noble sense of Russian spirit.
The coupling on the disc is Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien, which he wrote in 1880 after a carnival in Rome inspired him. The piece is redolent of Italian folk tunes, street songs, and martial music, forming an excess of vigorous melodies throughout. Tchaikovsky called it "an Italian fantasy on folk melodies." Here, too, Kitajenko is at his best in the quieter moments, which are quite beguiling. This is a pleasantly amiable Capriccio rather than an overtly thrilling one.
Oehms Classics recorded the music at Studio Stolberger Strasse, Cologne, in 2010 and 2011. It comes on a hybrid two-channel/multichannel Super Audio Compact Disc playable in two-channel stereo on any ordinary CD player and in two-channel stereo and multichannel on an SACD player. I listened in two-channel stereo using a Sony SACD player. The sound is very full and widespread, slightly soft and warm, with a somewhat limited dimensionality but a realistic sense of ambient bloom. The engineers capture the dynamics fairly well, with moderate transparency in the midrange and at least adequate extensions of the bass and treble, if a touch strident in louder sections of the Capriccio.
John J. Puccio