Feature LP Review – Tchaikovsky|Fischer|Kreizberg; Nopigom|Hwang; Tchaikovsky|Leningrad|Mravinsky

Written by: Rob Pennock

Tchaikovsky – Violin Concerto in D, Op.35; Sérénade mélancolique, Op.26; Valse-Scherzo, Op.34; Souvenir d’un lieu cher, Op.42*

Julia Fischer (violin), Russian National Orchestra, Yakov Kreizberg (conductor & piano*)

Recorded at DZZ Studio 5 & MCO Studio 5, Hilversum in April 2006
Pentatone 2 x 180gm LP: PTC 5186804

Darha Nopigom – Gayageum Masterpieces, Vol. 5
Byungki Hwang – Darha Nopigom; Jasi (Night Watch); Sigyyetap (The Clock Tower); Nakdoeum; Hamadan; Chahyangije (Two Poems on the Fragrance of Tea); Moon of My Hometown; Chucheonsa (Swinging Song); Chimhyang-moo

Byungki Hwang & Jiyoung Yi (gayageum), Chungsu Kim (janggu), Chongjin Hong (daegeum), Yoongeong Heo (geomungo), Kwonsoon Kang (vocals)

C&L Music 2 x 180gm LPs: CNLR 1913

Tchaikovsky – Symphony No.4 in F minor, Op.36; Symphony No.5 in E minor, Op.64; Symphony No.6 in B minor, Op.74 (Pathétique)

Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, Evgeny Mravinsky

Recorded at Wembley Town Hall & the Musikverein Vienna in September and November 1960
Analogphonic 3LPs 180gm: LP43092

Pentatone only recently started producing LPs, and this 2006 digital album features the popular Julia Fischer, who, in the Concerto’s first movement, adopts a forward moving tempo with some variation, but there is also a decided lack of tension and emotional engagement. She fares slightly better in a flowing account of the Canzonetta where the woodwind are suitably plangent, but again there is no real feeling. The finale is very fast, Kreizberg brings balletic finesse to the accompaniment and Fischer seems to be enjoying herself. But here as throughout the score, Boris Belkin, Ashkenazy and the Philharmonia (Decca) go gloriously OTT as they revel in the wonderful melodies, they clearly feel the music and the fill-ups are similarly bland.

Compared to what the great recording engineer Ken Wilkinson provided for Belkin in 1977 the sound is nothing special; the Pentatone lacking its presence, tangible acoustic signature, clarity and beautifully captured instrumental timbres. However with Fischer the LP offers a civilising influence, sounding less synthetic than the DSD64 it was compared to and no doubt Fischer’s army of admirers will want this.

Many westerners will know little of the vibrant musical cultures of the East. The traditional music of South Korea found in Darha Nopigomuses 12 note scales, but the pitch and intervals are different to their western equivalent, as are the ‘modes’ used to determine the key, which along with rhythmic flexibility and the way the instruments are strung lends the music an other-worldly quality.    

As the superb sleeve notes explain Byungki Hwang (1936-2018) was a celebrated composer and performer who plays a 12 or 17 string gayageum on three of the tracks. There is also a geomungo (zither), an hour glass shaped drum the janggu, a daegeum (flute) and three numbers with vocals. The music is immensely varied, using traditional material and more contemporary idioms, but even in the faster sections there is an underlying current of quiet contemplation and this really is an exceptional album, full of beautiful music, beautifully performed, although Kwonsoon Kang’s intonation can be awry.    

The LPs are identical to a digital album published in 2007 with the addition of the last track recorded at the composer’s home in 2016. The lacquers were cut from 24/192 digital masters, which explains why the sound is so good, with plenty of body, projection, depth, clarity and definition where instrumental timbres are vividly realised, although the overall balance is slightly too forward and the daegeum sounds more digital than the other instruments.

Finally we have Analogphonic’s remastering of Mravinsky’s classic stereo versions of the last three numbered Symphonies of Tchaikovsky, recorded in London and Vienna in 1960. What makes them so memorable is the way Mravinsky sculpts beautiful melodic lines without ever indulging in the sentimental histrionics as so many lesser conductors do. He constructs shattering climaxes, delineates instrumental lines, and springs the rhythms often within challengingly fast tempos. He builds and maintains tension, and in 1960 the Leningrad Philharmonic was one of the world’s greatest orchestras, who produced a quintessentially Russian sound.

In terms of the sound the overall balance is middle-distance with plenty of space around the orchestra. On both the Analogphonic and first label discs the sound-stage is broad and deep, and you get some idea of the orchestra’s power and huge projection. The new pressings however have greater weight, the string sound is more defined, and the LPs in their original sleeves are housed in an elegant slide-in box.

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