Top positive review
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HOW PERFECTIONISTIC DO YOU WANT TO BE?
on 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.