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This review is from: Tchaikovsky: Symphonies Nos.1-3 (Audio CD)
I am frankly rather puzzled by some previous lukewarm reviews, claiming that these performances are cool, routine and passionless and that Markevitch was clearly in decline. While I concede that there might be other recordings you could favour over these - Stokowski's "Francesca da Rimini"; Abbado's famous 1968 recording of the "Winter Dreams" and "Little Russian" symphonies come to mind - I really do not hear anything other than a master of the idiom successfully persuading two fine British orchestras to adopt enough rasp and edge to masquerade as echt Russian and give us splendid, authentic-sounding accounts of Tchaikovsky's exuberant earlier symphonies. The odd thing is that you can find diametrically opposed reviews. While I do indeed find Markevitch's direction to be elegant and unmannered I certainly hear no lack of attack or propulsion; he simply lets the music unfold with an unerring sense of pace and architecture.
The "Polish" is beautifully gauged, with a lightness of touch and an air of the dance that suggests Tchaikovsky's ballet scores; all flickering flutes and courtly charm. The "Little Russian" is much earthier and more vigorous, as it should be, and the variations of the finale reach a rousing climax. "Winter Dreams" is alert and rhapsodic by turns; the early "Gramophone" reviewer was right when he remarked upon how Markevitch confers a Mendelssohnian quality upon the music - it is mercurial, even capricious in mood. The "Francesca da Rimini" is impassioned and hard-driven, even if it does not rival the intensity of Stokowski with the so-called "Stadium Symphony Orchestra".
The sound here is really excellent as was typical of Philips' at this time: some very slight hum and negligible hiss but generally clean and clear if somewhat lacking in depth.
The fact that these performances have been collected together and made available so cheaply is by no means the only excuse to buy them; they are valuable in their own right as representative of the work of a conductor who eschewed raw impact in favour of a more measured, "Viennese" approach to Tchaikovsky while still being able to deliver excitement at climactic points by virtue of his masterly pacing.