Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op.36
Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op.74 (Pathétique)
Violin Concerto in D, Op.35a
Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire de Paris
Ruggiero Ricci (violin)
New Symphony Orchestra of London
Sir Malcolm Sargenta
Recorded: La Maison de la Mutualité, Paris, France, 7–9 June 1949 (Symphony No. 4), 5–7 October 1953 (Symphony No. 6); Kingsway Hall, London, UK, 26–27 January 1950 (Violin Concerto)
Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson
Reviewed: July 2021
CD No: Eloquence 484 0373 [2 CDs]
Duration: 117 minutes
This Fourth Symphony of Tchaikovsky first appeared on a five-disc 78rpm set in 1949, but was released on LP one year later. The Violin Concerto was also issued in both formats. It is now possible effectively to restore 78rpm technology, and Decca’s much publicised ffrr system was used both before and after the initial use of tape, so there is still excellent quality to be heard from the post-war years. The problem with this Fourth however is more to do with balance than overall sonic quality. The full orchestra lacks weight, there is little impact at climaxes, and the acoustic sounds rather dry. In Erich Kleiber’s equable reading the instruments are all there somewhere but the general quality is rather like that of an A.M. broadcast of the time. There are moments of interest such as the quietly deliberate phrasing in hushed sections of the first movement and rhythm in the pizzicato-laden Scherzo is admirably strong although the movement fades-in rather than commences. The finale is plain, the percussion sounds modest.
The Pathétique Symphony is another matter. Four years later here the same venue seems more resonant making the orchestra sound more colourful, yet it is not the best of Decca’s sound. That can be found in Kleiber’s magnificent Concertgebouw recording of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony recorded only ten days earlier. In the Tchaikovsky, Kleiber adheres to many of the old performing traditions including a very romantic approach to the Andante section of the first movement. The extraordinary close to the section where bassoon has a solo marked pppppp sounds as if is played on bass clarinet. Another of the traditions applied here is a slowing for the last statement of the famous March – maybe a sense of grandeur is being sought but surely a sense of hysteria should be evoked. There is insight and drama in this interpretation but this is not a revelatory.
Bearing in mind the date of the recording this, the earliest of Ricci’s three recordings of the Violin Concerto, sounds remarkably clear and well-balanced. The orchestral contribution by the Decca’s house orchestra of the time: the New Symphony, is in absolute accord with Ricci’s interpretation – Sir Malcolm Sargent was a notably skilled accompanist, Ricci is certainly a virtuoso, but when extremely difficult passages are encountered, he brings them off with ease; they are treated as an integral part of the concerto rather than showpieces.
This performance is more than a matter of untroubled accuracy; emotions are also portrayed. For example the quiet restatement of a secondary theme four minutes before the end of the first movement instils a sense of loneliness emphasised further by the withdrawn nature of the accompaniment. Sadness is thoughtfully portrayed in the Canzonetta – providing an ideal foil to the virtuosic fire of the finale. Some of the various editions of the time trim this movement but this version does not use the surprisingly short route taken by Heifetz in his contemporary (and very fine) version.
An interesting reissue, the Concerto being the star of the show.