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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No. 4 in F minor, Op. 36 [42:48]
Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64 [44:19]
Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74 'Pathétique' [44:26]
Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra/Yevgeny Mravinsky
rec. stereo, 14-15 September 1960, Wembley Town Hall, London (4); Großer Saal, Musikverein, Vienna, 9-10 November 1960 (5), 7-9 November 1960 (6). 32-bit XR re-masters
First issued on LP as DGG SLPM138657 (4); 138658 (5); 138659 (6)
PRISTINE AUDIO PASC 396 [69:40 + 61:53]

Mravinsky, the Leningrad Phil and Tchaikovsky captured in 1960 in stereo. Older hands will know them. After all they have been catalogue landmarks since they were first issued. These are the sort of readings that spoil you for the rest. The stereo recordings are spectacular in realising Mravinsky’s aural ‘vision’. They make an extremely exciting and seductive impact. 

Whether the orchestra is crashing around like some impassioned force of nature or creeping and whispering in your ear you are left with little choice other than to be won over. If there is a downside it is that Mravinsky’s iron grip is relentless. These are extremely special documents and are imbued with a feral vitality that fools you into thinking that the playing is on the edge of chaos - almost ungovernable. That said, you may from time to time want something that is two steps back from the furnace. Rozhdestvensky and the LSO (Alto and Brilliant Classics) are good complements as is Monteux and the LSO in the Fifth Symphony (Vanguard).
 
The presto section of the finale of the Fifth Symphony hurtles headlong at such a speed that you are left breathless; the same goes for the finale of No. 4. Mravinsky knows how to play the passions. He propels his orchestra majestically, piling emotional impact on sledgehammer shock. The pulse races. The most minute of tempo changes register in head and heart. Here is a conductor who not only knows but responds with steely concentration to Tchaikovsky in matters of speed and pulsation, of acceleration and deceleration. Mravinsky can play the poet as well and always finds a tempo that allows the versifying to expand. This he can be heard doing in the second and third movements of the Fourth Symphony. The brass benches sound extraordinary and bristle with character. The strings play like a hurricane - but with remarkable unity; try the third movement of the Sixth Symphony. At the other extreme, if you are allergic to liquid horn solos then best avoid the second movement of Mravinsky’s Fifth. He broods with the best in the Pathétique but finds delight in the swaying and dancing elements of the second movement as he does in the third movement of the Fifth Symphony. In the finale of No. 6 details are handled with telling effect. An example is the stillness Mravinsky creates around the tam-tam.
 
It’s a pity that in the CD version the Fifth Symphony is split across the two discs but there is no alternative. Those who download or who rip onto a portable device will not be troubled in this way. Neither will those who have CD changers - perish the thought.
 
It is proof of Andrew Rose and Pristine’s attention to artistic detail that there is a good silence between the end of one symphony and the start of the next.
 
Deutsche Grammophon first reissued these stereo examples, at full price mark you, in a boxed set as 419 745-2 then at mid-price on DG Originals. DG Originals also brought out a reputedly remarkable mono Leningrad Phil set from the mid-1950s in which the Fourth was conducted by Kurt Sanderling and the other two by Mravinsky.
 
These are not mundane or routine recordings or readings. They are likely to leave most listeners shaken and convinced yet again that music still has something extraordinary for us. The opposite pole from routine. I only lament that Manfred was not included in those 1960 sessions.
 
Rob Barnett 

Masterwork Index: Symphony 4 ~~ Symphony 5 ~~ Symphony 6


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