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Pyotr Ilych TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1896)
Symphony No 6 in B minor, Op. 74 (1893) [44’51"]
Overture and Dances of the Hay Maidens from Voyevoda, Op. 3 (1867-8) [15’30"]
Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Radio/Vladimir Fedoseyev
Recorded in 1999 DDD
RELIEF CR 991060 [60’45"]

Vladimir Fedoseyev was appointed Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of what was then named the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra in 1974 and he is still in place. Though it is not stated explicitly in the notes accompanying this CD I infer that it, and a number of companions, were released to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of his association with the orchestra.

It was a good idea to include some lesser-known Tchaikovsky on the disc. The two short pieces come from the composer’s first opera, Voyevoda, which is roughly contemporaneous with the First Symphony. Immediately after the opera’s first performance, in 1869, Tchaikovsky destroyed the score but it appears that he recycled some of the music and not only sanctioned performances of the two excerpts presented here, but actually conducted them himself on several occasions. The overture, though worth hearing, is somewhat blatant in its outer sections. The central section (track 5, from 4’08") is founded on an attractive, plaintive theme, which is enunciated first by the cor anglais. The theme is then taken up by the strings, to rather memorable effect. The engaging Dances are very enjoyable – typical of Tchaikovsky, the master composer for the ballet.

Reactions to the performance of the symphony may be mixed, I suspect. It is quite a restrained reading and I could well imagine some listeners finding it rather understated. I must say I found it refreshing. The first movement is well played and, where called for, there is passion. There is plenty of weight in the strings and the brass display a touch of the old-style Russian vibrato, but never to excess. Fedoseyev plays the score "straight" and I was relieved to find a lack of unnecessary underlining and point-making. I was just a trifle disappointed by the coda, underpinned by the descending pizzicato strings. Here I thought Fedoseyev was just a bit brisk and matter of fact but, to be fair, this is consistent with what seems like a no-nonsense approach to the work.

The second movement is moderately paced (some may feel it’s a shade too deliberate) but the intensity is built nicely. Though the tempo may seem leisurely I think Fedoseyev has opted to emphasis the "con grazia" in Tchaikovsky’s tempo instruction. There is no lack of spirit in the third movement.

The finale begins with a degree of restraint, which I rather like. This sobriety means that when Tchaikovsky starts to increase the temperature (track 4 from 3’17") Fedoseyev and his players have plenty left in the tank and the more raw emotions of the later stretches of the movement are thereby well managed without hysteria,

As you may have inferred from my comments this performance is not anywhere near as intense an experience as that provided by, say, Pletnev (Virgin) or Fricsay (on a newly-issued DG Masters boxed set). The indispensible and incomparable Mravinsky (DG) remains in a class of his own, of course. Any of these would be among my top recommendations for this work. However, by letting the music speak for itself, avoiding exaggeration, Fedoseyev achieves satisfying results. His orchestra plays well for him though the timpanist tends to be over-enthusiastic (though in part this may be a fault of the recorded balance).

I enjoyed this performance of this much-recorded symphony. It would not be a first choice but it is well worth investigation as an antidote to more high-octane readings.

John Quinn


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