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This review is from: Tchaikovsky: Symphonies Nos. 4, 5 & 6 (Mariinsky Orchestra / Gergiev) [Blu-ray][Region Free] (Blu-ray)
Yes, Tchaikovsky's music can be noisy, repetitive, even banal and sentimental in some passages, especially when it is not played "right" and without the proper feeling for its many layers of emotion, its surprisingly complex structures and its idiomatic syntax. When I approached Gergiev's set of the mature symphonies, my yardstick of excellence was the 1991 DVD Tchaikovsky Cycle by Vladimir Fedoseyev with the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra (see my review). These are marvelous, idiomatic performances - though the video and audio are now somewhat dated - and I will return to them. Gergiev has the advantage of state-of-the-art audio and video. He also conducts one of the world's premier orchestras, the musicians on the tip of their collective toes during their tour, here captured in the acoustically benevolent Salle Pleyel in Paris. Gergiev's approach to the scores is free in the best sense: he uses frequent tempo shifts, a wide spectrum of sound from ppp to fff as well as much portamento, rubato, accelerando and diminuendo. He manages to bring off the Fourth (an uneven symphony) with passion and insight, lending it a stature rarely encountered in other performances. Both the Fifth and the Pathétique are poignantly felt, the former as an arduous, but ultimate affirmation of life, the latter in its shattering progression to final dark resignation. These are incredible, stunning and moving performances one must hear to appreciate. The interview with Gergiev shows him as an articulate, thoughtful musician who sheds new light on Tchaikovsky's music and the art of performance.