Tchaikovsky: Symphonies – No 1 in G minor, Op 7 (Winter Dreams); No 2 in C minor, Op 17 (Little Russian); No 5 in E minor, Op 64

Reviewed on Wed 22 Jun, 2016

I liked the cut and thrust of the first and third movements of the ‘Little Russian’, though the sudden surge of energy (and speed) at the very close of the finale failed to convince me. This is majestic music where the sequence of variations should work like a road map towards a secure destination. Here it doesn’t.

There are details to relish here, mostly with respect to the way the (excellent) orchestra is balanced: in the Fifth Symphony, for example, the trio section of the waltz where the chiming woodwinds are exceptionally clear. The First Symphony is breezy and slick, if not exactly magical, the playing of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic well drilled, the most effective episode the slow centre of the finale, which anticipates a similarly lugubrious passage in the finale of the Manfred Symphony. I liked the cut and thrust of the first and third movements of the ‘Little Russian’, though the sudden surge of energy (and speed) at the very close of the finale failed to win me over. This is majestic music where the sequence of variations should work like a road map towards a secure destination. Here it doesn’t. Nor do some tweaked dynamics – both here and elsewhere – convince me. I suppose what I miss most, is a sense of emotional engagement. Interesting that Sir Malcolm Sargent, a conductor who years ago was critically chided for being superficial, recorded a (cut) Tchaikovsky Fifth (BBC SO, newly out on Guild) that tops this version for gravitas many times over. But then Sargent took his time over the music, and nowadays that just won’t do.
–Rob Cowan