We listened to the first CD with Symphonies 1, 2 and 5 last year [reviewed here]. It was a very impressive release both as performances and recording. So much so, that this final instalment was eagerly awaited.
The new CD, like the first, was recorded in Liverpool's fine Philharmonic Hall, highlighting the lovely bloom around the orchestra and the wide range of dynamics the Phil's music director, Vasily Petrenko demands. If anything, the new release is even better than the first. Only a minor criticism will stop this Onyx disc from taking a top spot in a very crowded field.
Whither the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic? Nowadays, it's really easy to 'fix it in the mix', but the orchestra goes from strength to strength on successive recordings. The playing here is spectacular -- strings in the opening movement of the 4th Symphony are courageous. They don't quite match the classic Leningrad/DG/Mravinsky performance (no one does), but this is a movement where string sections can produce a collective fail. Brass and woodwinds shine, too. The notes of the 3rd and 6th Symphonies are not easy to play, but present far fewer problems than the fiendish 4th. It's in the Scherzo where my one quibble show its reed. I'm not fan of the clarinet sound. Nit picked.
Petrenko shines a light on Tchaikovsky's micro and macro dynamics, especially when subito [suddenly]. Very effective. He does this in all three symphonies. Also effective, the use of different bowing articulations -- legato where I usually hear detached, and the opposite. These phrases did not sound mannered, just right. And very musical. They're not marked by Tchaikovsky in the score.
The solo work on the CDs is exceptional. The piccolo riff in the 4th's Scherzo is dispatched with a sparkle and slow movement's oboe solo I've never heard bettered [I'm assuming it's the orchestra's long time principal, Jonathan Small -- he's also brilliant on the orchestra's wonderful Shostakovich Symphony cycle]. Tchaikovsky's unique string orchestration in the Lamentoso of the Pathetique makes for a super rich presentation and the brass in the symphony's March is razor sharp in ensemble. The playing in the 3rd is equally fine.
Petrenko was also made Musical Director of the Oslo Philharmonic last year. A lateral move with Liverpool, standard wise. No major appointment yet. He has some weaknesses, never mind the raves in the Brit press. I've not been impressed with his mainstream repertoire, Beethoven chief among them. But in the Slavic repertoire, he has few peers in England. And other than my preference for clarinets without vibrato, these new CDs, especially if you need the coupling, will make an easy first choice. Highly recommended.
Total time [128:04]
Catalogue No: ONYX4162