Symphony No.2 in C minor, Op.17 (Little Russian) [Revised Version]
Overture in F [1866 Version]
Festive Overture on the Danish National Anthem, Op.15 [1892 Version]
The Storm Overture, Op.76
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
Recorded in 2004 in August (overtures) and November in the Gothenburg Concert Hall, Sweden
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: September 2006
CD No: BIS-SACD-1418
Duration: 72 minutes
It’s always a pleasure to listen to Tchaikovsky’s ‘Little Russian’ Symphony, which makes use of folk-material from the Ukraine; it’s a delectable work of lyricism, energy and colour – and is given a splendid performance by Neeme Järvi and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra as part of their Tchaikovsky cycle for BIS.
After a finely played and shaped opening horn solo and with the musicians clearly relishing the music, the drive and vivid detailing of the Allegro vivo, rendered with dynamism and stamping vitality is quiet compelling; and the song-like episodes are sculptured with burgeoning feeling. The march-like second movement is rather jaunty, while the scherzo is mercurial and deftly brought off. The finale is as pointed and as well calibrated as the first movement and leads to a resolute coda.
This is a winning performance – displaying a sense of purpose that is infectious: a performance of real affection and craft, beautifully worked out, yet remaining spontaneous and heartfelt. Järvi opts for the composer’s revision, which made the symphony more compact; Järvi’s way with it makes it not a second too long – but without any sign of rush or breathlessness.
The three overtures are among the least played of Tchaikovsky’s output. The one in F major, while betraying inexperience, has many a Tchaikovskian hallmark. Like the symphony, it begins with a lovely horn solo and develops, via ballet charm and operatic drama, to a coda of jubilation. Originally scored for small orchestra, Tchaikovsky made a fuller version a year later, in 1866.
The Festive Overture was composed in 1866 as a wedding piece for a Russian Tsarevich and a Danish Princess; it’s an elegant and ceremonial work, exuberant and lucid in the faster music, and making use of both the Danish and Russian national anthems. The latter, and the militaristic scoring, remind, at times, of the 1812 Overture (also described as ‘Festive’) and there’s a timpani figure that anticipates the one that opens the Andante marziale of Symphony No.2. Tchaikovsky thought much of this overture (and rated it higher than 1812). He revised it many years later, in 1892 (the year before his still-mysterious death) for its belated publication; there is a thrilling conclusion that is brilliantly scored.
In 1864 Tchaikovsky wrote a dark, doom-laden and tragic ‘overture’ (it’s more a tone poem) inspired by Ostrovsky’s then-recent drama, “The Storm” (1859). It’s a really fine piece and Järvi brings out its variety, maybe sacrificing impetuosity for too articulate an approach; but this shows off Tchaikovsky’s finely imagined and potent piece, and his sepulchral and glinting orchestration, music that should be heard more often. Published posthumously – hence the misleadingly ‘high’ opus number – The Storm (not to be confused with Tchaikovsky’s Shakespearean ‘symphonic fantasia’ The Tempest) is a masterly example of musical characterisation.
BIS has supplied a recording that has a judicious balance of presence, clarity and bloom; maybe the sound is just a little too ambient in the symphony with some frequencies there being a tad remote; but the overtures are wonderfully vivid and resplendent, and this is an impressive release.