Tchaikovsky: Symphonies – No 2 in C minor, Op 17 (Little Russian); No 3 in D major, Op 29 (Polish)

Reviewed on Mon 22 Oct, 2018

The first three movements of the ‘Little Russian’ are full of wit, vim and vigour, the recording catching to perfection the keen antiphonal interplay of divided violin desks.

Vladimir Jurowski’s complete live set of Tchaikovsky symphonies (available on LPO LPO-0101) proved something of a mixed blessing and this 2016 coupling of the Second and Third Symphonies is fairly typical in the way it either hits or misses its targets. The first three movements of the ‘Little Russian’ are full of wit, vim and vigour, the recording catching to perfection the keen antiphonal interplay of divided violin desks (I’ve never heard them sound clearer), the playing precise and energetic. But, come the finale, and Jurowski seems to slip into autopilot. It’s as if he’s, well not exactly lost interest, but let’s say lost the edge of his enthusiasm for the piece. In the case of the 'Polish' Symphony the balance of keenness versus indifference is reversed, the performance’s highlight being the fourth movement scherzo, which is performed with great imagination, Jurowski here suggesting active parallels with the ballets or even the orchestral suites. Were I to nominate the quality most lacking in this performance it would be love, or at the very least warmth. The symphony’s elegiac Andante is among Tchaikovsky’s most beautiful early creations. When I spoke to Semyon Bychkov about his Tchaikovsky Project with the Czech Philharmonic for Decca some while ago, he gave me a sneak preview of this very movement in his as yet unissued version of the 'Polish', which is I have to say in a different class. Hopefully, all is still on track for its release, so my advice is to hold tight. It’ll be worth waiting for.
–Rob Cowan