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3.0 out of 5 stars Tchaikovsky Symphonies, 8 Aug 2010
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This review is from: Symphonies Nos. 1 - 6 (Termikanov) (Audio CD)
On the basis of their playing of the first - neglected and underrated - symphony, the RPO were in remarkably fine form in the early 1990s, with warm and vibrant playing in all departments. The first symphony points up some of the weaknesses of this set: the mannerisms and indulgences of Temirkanov. The finale sets off at a cracking pace, almost too fast for comfort, but then follows an excruciatingly slow build-up to the coda.

The second symphony fares much better, since here Temirkanov avoids the stop-start approach he adopts elsewhere. The opening movement moves majestically forward and in the finale he underlines the closeness to Mussorgsky, bringing out all the colours in the orchestral texture. On the same disc Francesca da Rimini is given a dramatic sweep, with plenty of controlled passion, making it one of the leading versions currently available.

The third symphony is almost a parody of the score. It begins impossibly slowly, as though someone is at death's door and all the assembled are waiting for the patient finally to expire. Admittedly, the marking is "Tempo di marcia funebre" but nobody on disc takes this section as slowly as Temirkanov. The middle movements offer little reason for not neglecting this magical score and the whole performance has none of the brilliance and bite in the string lines that characterise Muti's performance with the Philharmonia. The filler, the Marche slave, is given a very rough-and-ready treatment with little to charm the ear.

Temirkanov's broody, portentous approach to the start of the fourth symphony repays dividends, with full weight given to the brass. He successfully mixes the wistful, yearning elements in the score with the powerful barnstorming sequences. The movement ends nobly rather than virtuosically. The middle movemnts are a little understated, although the wind play delectably. An attaca leads straight into the finale, which is despatched with plenty of vigour.

In the fifth symphony Temirkanov comes horribly unstuck. A look at the timings will show how far he is away from the classical account of his compatriot Mravinsky. The first movement is an andante, not a largo. The finale too starts with a grossly protracted introduction. Throughout Temirkanov seems to want to emphasise the stodge rather than the sparkle: it is a very wayward reading of the score and by far the weakest symphony in this set.

The slow introduction to the sixth is much more successful, with variations in colour, texture and pulse to charm the ear. In the development section the brass come through thrillingly, leading to a real sense of desolation. The waltz glides past elegantly and the march packs a suitable punch. In the finale Temirkanov keeps all the lines very taut, but with a firm grip on the architecture he builds the final climax very powerfully.

In short, as in the case of sets of the Beethoven symphonies where some conductors are better at the even numbers, Temirkanov's approach works well in Nos. 2, 4 and 6 but he cannot really be recommended in the odd-numbered symphonies.
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