Symphony No.1 in G minor, Op.13 (Winter Daydreams)
The Firebird [1945 Suite]
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Philharmonia Orchestra [Stravinsky]
Recorded 5 June 1996 (Stravinsky) & 19 April 2002 in Barbican Hall, London
Reviewed by: Andrew Achenbach
Reviewed: February 2011
CD No: ICA CLASSICS ICAC5007
Duration: 81 minutes
The account of the Tchaikovsky symphony emanates from what proved to be Evgeny Svetlanov’s very last concert (the other major work on the bill was Rachmaninov’s “The Bells”). It’s a majestically paced interpretation, evincing an unforced wisdom, firm grip and disarming emotional candour. The first movement unfolds with effortless naturalness, the string basses providing a reassuringly solid bedrock, the woodwinds always keenly articulate and trumpets lending a satisfying bite to tuttis. At the same time, Svetlanov extracts every drop of songful warmth from the second subject, its brief but telling modulation into a remote F sharp major (at fig E or 2’53”) quickening the senses like the appearance of a rainbow. In the ensuing Adagio cantabile ma non tanto Svetlanov coaxes playing of memorable expressive warmth from the BBC Symphony Orchestra (its cellos in particular cover themselves in glory from the Tempo primo marking at figure C, 4’39”). What’s more, the horn-led climatic paragraph opens out marvellously, the orchestral timbre both noble and strong, while the reprise of the opening paragraph at the very end distils a particularly potent sense of heartache that put me in mind of the slow movement of Rachmaninov’s First Symphony (another work Svetlanov always conducted with abundant perception). If the scherzo takes just a little time to settle, the trio is to be cherished in its freshness of new discovery, Tchaikovsky’s waltz caressed with enormous affection by conductor and performers alike (the way the first violins and cellos gently lean on their accent in the fourth bar is judged to perfection). The finale is superb, too, the second subject the high-kicking Cossack dance it should be – and how shrewd of Svetlanov to keep in reserve such a terrific burst of energy for the adrenalin-fuelled coda.
The coupling – a patient and observant reading of Stravinsky’s 1945 Firebird Suite with the Philharmonia Orchestra from six years earlier – likewise brings much to relish. Svetlanov’s formidable theatrical instincts do not desert him, and once we reach the ‘The Princesses’ round-dance’, there’s no doubting a master is on the podium, such is the bewitching beauty and fragrant poetry that Svetlanov conjures (meltingly expressive winds and strings both here and in the ‘Berceuse’). Elsewhere, ‘Kashchei’s Infernal Dance’ manages to combine gut-wrenching excitement and agreeable transparency, while the transition into ‘Finale’ is truly spine-tingling in its awesome hush and control. Needless to say, the closing bars are thrilling in their cumulative splendour.
In both works, the BBC engineers strike an eminently truthful balance, the vividness of the sound enhanced by Paul Baily’s re-mastering; indeed, the overall effect strikes me as rather more palatable than many an LSO Live offering captured in this same venue. Urgently recommended.