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Tchaikovsky at his most profound,
This review is from: Complete Symphonies, The (Abbado) (Audio CD)
Despite the budget price and the dubious presentation, this complete cycle of the Tchaikovsky symphonies is a very credible addition to the vast canon of recordings already in existence. As one would expect from such eminent musicians, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra are on top form, and have a clear, close working relationship with the conductor, Claudio Abbado.
This recording has everything that a Tchaikovsky specialist might look for. Rather than taking one interpretation or viewpoint on the composer's style (which so many "complete symphonies" recordings do), Abbado has approached each work from a unique perspective. This allows us to hear the naivety of the first Symphony ("Winter Dreams"), the rustic folk-like feel of the second ("Little Russian"), the maturity and confidence of the fourth and fifth, and the over-powering pain and despair of the sixth ("Pathétique"). In particular, I found the first and sixth symphonies to be performed extremely well - the latter being no easy task for any orchestra.
What makes this recording stand out from others is that is possesses raw passion, almost painful emotion, and an unbelievable atmosphere (quite unusual for me, I was moved to tears as I heard the opening flute passages of the first symphony, whilst reading an account of the composer's slow and painful death). To complete the experience, listeners should read David Brown's superb books on Tchaikovsky - either the complete four-volume biography, the new shorter edition, or the scholarly "Remembering Tchaikovsky" which is a collection of letters, articles, and memoirs from the composer and his closest friends.
As I mentioned above, the presentation is poor and inappropriate, the recording is at a suspicious budget price, and the programme notes good but incomplete as they provide only a brief overview of the complete set. Further to this, no information is given about the recording sessions, the conductor, or orchestra. Another disadvantage of this recording is that the fourth symphony has been split onto two discs (there are four in total), although this has allowed the sixth symphony to stand alone on the fourth disc, which is a very wise move, owing to its unique place in the symphonic repertoire.
Overall, this recording is one for both scholarship and enjoyment, and, despite its faults, I give it great value amongst my Tchaikovsky CDs.