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Customer reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
Tchaikovsky: Symphonies Nos.1-3
Format: Audio CD|Change
Price:£12.61+ Free shipping with Amazon Prime

VINE VOICETOP 500 REVIEWERon 27 January 2014
This ought, surely, to be a very safe recommendation for most music collectors, but American listeners first need to be reassured that the set contains all Tchaikovsky's first three symphonies, not just numbers one and three. These are nearly always thought of as being among the master's lesser efforts and I really doubt whether many of his aficionados agonise over fine details of interpretation or grand overall concepts where they are concerned. If my reaction is of any help to anyone, Markevitch's performances for me tick every right box. The playing and orchestral execution are immaculate, from one of the finest periods of the London Symphony Orchestra's history. The phrasing is sensitive and fluent and tempi are without exception judicious, but more importantly Markevitch conveys a real sense of belief in the music. The lyricism is exceptionally beautiful where the music allows for that, notably in the slow movement of #1. Markevitch is not afraid of the rowdy sequences either. He never lets them become unmusical, and if I felt just a little unease at one or two of the noisier climaxes in the first movement of the same work, I think we can probably let the composer shoulder most of the blame.

Supposing that you, like me, are satisfied if you can find good accounts of these interesting early compositions without doing detailed market research, then this 2-disc set is a bit of a godsend. You are not likely to find performances that are much if at all better (however that is to be assessed) of any of the three symphonies individually on separate issues, and here you have them all together, and at moderate cost into the bargain. I should put in a word for the quality of the recording as well. The symphonies date from the mid-60's (Francesca from 10 years later), and although nothing is said about remastering or any technical upgrading there is very little to criticise in the sound. Nor did I notice that the sound quality was better in Francesca, despite the later date. It serves another fine performance admirably, and I liked particularly the way in which Markevitch and his orchestra convey the frantic sense of the fragmentary woodwind phrases without letting the musical line disintegrate. Francesca is of course mature Tchaikovsky, and listeners are likely to be more discriminating this time. The trouble is that Francesca is a 20-minute piece, so in the nature of the case it can only be a minor participant (in terms of duration) on any normal cd. Normal considerations of practicality will lead purchasers to weigh up their opinion of how well Francesca is handled in the context of whatever else is on the set in question, and even if I thought that this Francesca was the tops I would be loth to recommend any collector to invest in two whole discs just for the 20 minutes. In fact this strikes me as an excellent Francesca, but there are others of which that can be said. You may still be able to find Stokowski's version which was famous in its time, and many critics would award it the prize, but really I feel that there is little sense in trying to isolate one single `best' version of a short symphonic poem like this. Get a few of them in the normal course of collecting and see which suit(s) you best.

There is not a bad liner note by Bernard Jacobson, and I particularly enjoyed his brisk dismissal of the fanciful reasons for the nicknames (`Winter Dreams', `Little Russian', `Polish') that have been hung round the necks of the three symphonies. Nearly two and a half hours of music as well, so you are not going to be short-changed in any way by this fine set.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 19 August 2010
Full marks to Philips for filling these two discs almost to overflowing. We have here Tchaikovsky's first three symphonies plus his `Francesca da Rimini'. All were recorded in 1965 and 1966.

I give three stars to Markevitch's interpretation of the first symphony. He certainly captures the drama inherent in all Tchaikovsky's works, and I particularly enjoyed the sense of excitement at the height of the first movement's development. However, one of the trumpets was askew when coming in on his fanfare in the recapitulation. The second movement is nicely balance, and I liked the way Markevitch slows down the transition into the second subject of the finale. But the fugato section loses its dramatic edge, but this is largely down to one of the composer's less inspiring pieces of writing. The sound is OK, but a bit muffled in the tuttis.

Markevitch's rendition of the second symphony is much better. The opening chord makes you jump out of your seat, and the scherzo is a five-star tour de force. The sound is much fuller and the tuttis sound good; one would never guess that it is now over forty years' old. There is a slight background hiss, though, in the quiet moments. Overall, I give this version four stars.

But I'm tempted to give a full five stars to the third symphony. Usually the third is Tchaikovsky's least appealing, but here Markevitch gives a fine attempt at persuading me of its merits. He does this through adopting `extreme' tempo and paying particular attention to context, taking the long view; thus he will lay the foundations earlier in a movement for the later return of themes. His is the slowest opening of all the versions in my collection, successfully conveying a sense of tension. Indeed, he is successful with the music's drama throughout the first movement. The second movement, though, is the fastest in my collection, ensuring that the dance never becomes laboured and tedious. The third is the longest - and best - in my collection, and the finale encapsulates the drama perfectly. The sound is again very good - clear and forthright, if a little rough-edged - although the slight hiss in the quiet periods is noticeable once more.

But can Markevitch do for `Francesca da Rimini' - the most Wagnerian of Tchaikovsky's pieces - what he has done for the third symphony? Well, partly. The drama is again placed well to the fore and the sound is brilliant considering its age, but the piece's long central section cannot escape its longueurs. Four stars, nevertheless. (Can there ever be a five-star performance of this problematical work?)

So, in conclusion, despite its age, this set can still hold its own: indeed, Markevitch's third symphony blows the likes of Jansons, Karajan, and Litton out of the water of my collection.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 1 May 2011
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.
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on 6 January 2015
Great performance but poor sound on my cheap sound system. I bought it because of the recommendation on CD review, but I would now have gone for a recent performance, like Gergiev, with the excellent recording sound it is supposed to have. I have recently come to the view that the best solution for someone with a cheap, but good sound system, is to buy recent well recorded versions as well as the historically great recordings if the budget stretches that far.
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on 29 August 2017
Excellente version. N'a pas pris une ride et de loin ma préférie. Et à ce prix, impossible de résister â la tentation!
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on 14 February 2014
I used to have the third and fourth symphonies from this cycle on tape which suffered from great hiss transferred at a low level though I still enjoyed the performances and recently bought this complete set on cd after hearing download extracts. This set has been overshadowed by more celebrated recordings, several of which I own Abbado, Karajan, Muti, Maazel, Jansons included. The 1960s recordings hold up well for their age and demonstrate a rich bass. These are full- blooded powerful performances of the first three symphonies and I wish I had purchased them when they were first available
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on 11 January 2013
I went to a concert at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester to hear the 3rd symphony of Tchaikovsky. Realised that in spite of many years of classical experience, I did not know it. So the next day I bought this CD and another with symphonies 4 - 6 as well. Can't speak re the classical nuances, just know I love listening to them.
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on 19 August 2009
I couldn't agree with John's review more. Although this set, along with 4, 5 and 6 were recorded in the 1960s, there is so much still to admire. I'd just like to add that Markevitch also catches the humour in Tchaikovsky's music - a characteristic not mentioned often enough and so often ignored by others. Anyone interested in a complete set of these wonderful symphonies should look no further. And at this price it's almost silly. There is, on Amazon, a set of the symphonies 4, 5 and 6 at the same price, giving you the complete symphonies plus generous fillers for less than £30.

If you're looking for your first set of Tchaikovsky symphonies then this, truly, is the one to go for.

The sound quality is still good, picking up all the subtle pianissimos and the orchestra has never sounded better.

Now stop reading this and place your order..!
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on 18 December 2007
Until you hear Markevitch, you'd be forgiven for thinking that everything about Tchaikovsky has more or less been covered by interpreters time and time again, from his brilliant orchestration to the powerful, even hysterical drama, that characterizes his output. But you would be wrong. never has the opening of the much too infrequently played 1st Symphony sounded so magical, so delicate - spun gossamer. The pacing is perfect. And in Francesca da Rimini the drama is quite overpowering. But not just that. Markevitch has a way of pinpointing, rather than highlighting, this composer's orchestration and interesting cross rhythms that makes you listen anew. Though this applies to any Markevitch I have ever heard, whether Brahms, Debussy, Mozart or whoever.
Unreservedly recommended!

John Landaw
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