Bamberg Symphony Orchestra
Hamlet Fantasy Overture, Op.67
Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture
The Tempest Symphonic Fantasy, Op.18
Francesca da Rimini Fantasy, Op.32
Symphony No.4 in F minor, Op.36
Capriccio Italien, Op.45
Fatum Symphonic Fantasia, Op.77
Marche Slave, Op.31
String Quartet No.1 in D, Op.11 Andante Cantabile
1812 Overture, Op.49
Recorded between December 1999 and February 2001 in Bambergs Konzert und Kongresshalle Sinfonie an der Regnitz
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: July 2003
CD No: See above
Duration: See above
While it might be claimed that recordings of Tchaikovsky’s best known pieces have reached saturation point, which they probably have, it might also be suggested that the music itself is played with a frequency whereby its can get treated with contempt. José Serebrier approaches these familiar scores with freshness and discretion – it’s so easy to whip this music into to a frenzy, to present it as a carnival of colour, to even use it as an ego trip; but this isn’t being ’musical’. Nor is it doing the composer justice – Tchaikovsky had a real heart and marked sensibility, which needs to be brought out in performance.
Serebrier does. Even so, there are moments when you wish that he would set the pulse racing a little bit, be less concerned with dotting Is and crossing Ts, and that the Bamberg Symphony was a little more fulsome in tone. Yet there’s also real artistic understanding here, which is fundamentally the realisation that to create and leave an impression you don’t have to throw everything at the music. The recordings throughout are excellent – non-bolstered in terms of presenting the lean timbres of the Bamberg Symphony as they are.
Beginning the Shakespearean-related CD is Hamlet, at its best in the lyrical moments, a beautiful oboe solo, with the strings catch the yearning expression devotedly, panache and sensitivity well balanced in Serebrier’s thoughtful reading; nothing egocentric or superficial here. Even better is The Tempest, one of those works that tends to get overlooked, yet here has life breathed into it with just enough adrenaline to lift the music off the page. Considered balances abound; attention to detail is exemplary. (A suspect horn note at 12’00” could have usefully been re-taken though!) Romeo and Juliet is maybe a little cool and circumspect, but like everything he conducts here, Serebrier identifies the music’s finer points and his long-term control is gratifying. A couple of textural oddities stand out – the seemingly out-of-sync trombones, 13’10”-13’15”, they’re not of course, Serebrier’s making a feature of them, and the timpani roll continuing through the final chord.
The Fourth Symphony begins with a brass motto both fateful and angular; the measures that ensue are weighed down yet striving. Serebrier is generally light-of-step, not so much balletic as objective, large-scale symphonic thought uppermost with some effective expressive tugging and purposeful striving to nodal points. The oboe solo beginning the second movement is segued from the resonance of the first; there’s no authority for this but it’s very effective (and absolutely not an editing fault). This ’Canzone’ is taken at a more leisurely pace than usual – very telling; just a couple of phrasal hesitations detract. Serebrier is especially successful at mingling merriment and melancholy in the central part before the expression turns to its dark side. The pizzicato scherzo is pointed, so too the folksy trio, blown away by a deliberate finale that engages more with the folk tunes than the ’con fuoco’ aspect – but such doggedness is relieved in the final bars, the usually-errant triangle heard to perfection on the final chord.
Francesca may seem peripheral to the Inferno at times, but Serebrier’s keen ear for balance and crispness of attack pays dividends. Ill-fated passion represents the musing central section which Serebrier languorously and ardently delivers.
With the cover graced by an attractive Thomas Rowlandson print, “Death and Bonaparte”, the third CD is a pleasing mix of lighter fare, Fatum aside, that is leavened by two gems for string orchestra. Fatum itself, one of Tchaikovsky’s works that resolutely refuses to enter the repertoire, opens more clipped than sonorously sustained in the Russian manner; Serebrier plays it with conviction and should win it some friends, especially as the rest of the disc is of such favourite items.
That would probably include the Elégie, if people knew how gravely beautiful it is; Serebrier demonstrates the point. As he does in the haunting Andante cantabile, played on full strings in Serebrier’s own version, one of the few chamber works to make the upgrade successfully. A buoyant, demonstrative and skirling Marche Slave is a particular highlight, and Capriccio Italien, from its barrack-brass opening to finishing-post romp (albeit at too-under a tempo), enjoys Serebrier’s refusal to indulge; he keeps episodes on their toes.
Just the 1812 then! It’s a trenchant reading and, away from the battle, the expansive central melody and happy-memory folk-tune are wonderfully well done. Cannon-fanciers shouldn’t be disappointed. Of this trilogy of CDs, this ’popular’ one stands particularly high.
To complete Serebrier’s singular effort, the conductor has written the booklet notes – for a Tchaikovsky threesome that is musically engaging, with numerous insights to return to, spontaneously conveyed.