TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 2 “Little Russian”; Symphony No. 3 “Polish” – Vienna State Opera Orch./ Hans Swarowsky – Tuxedo

TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 17 “Little Russian”; Symphony No. 3 in D Major, Op. 29 “Polish” – Vienna State Opera Orchestra/ Hans Swarowsky – Tuxedo mono TUXCD 1066, 74:20 (2/3/15) [Distr. by Albany] ****:

Hungarian conductor and pedagogue Hans Swarowsky (1899-1975) led the two Tchaikovsky symphonies inscribed here with the VSOO in 1952. Having trained with Felix Weingartner, Richard Strauss and Arnold Schoenberg, Swarowsky possessed strong gifts in both the instrumental and operatic media, and Herbert con Karajan insisted Swarowsky assume the permanent conductorship of the Vienna State Opera.

Tchaikovsky’s C Minor Symphony (1873; rev. 1880) remains his most “nationalist” symphonic work, in spite of his pro-German leanings and the heavy influence of Beethoven’s own Fifth Symphony. The first movement exploits the folk tune, “Down by Mother Volga,” in various capacities, particularly in the use of brass and woodwinds. Swarowsky drives the Andante – Allegro rather hard, emphasizing the dramatic impetus even more than the occasional outpourings of folk lyricism. Having first heard this work under Eugene Goossens, I must say the Swarowsky reading proves more “Teutonic” in its sense of classical architecture. The ensuing Andante marciale develops a wedding march intended for the opera Undine. Tchaikovsky treats the melody more balletically – in variation – than in strict sonata-allegro dictated by German tradition. Swarowsky elicits some deep sounds from his secondary strings and woodwinds. The potent cadences hint at Wagner while the fleet impulses point to both Mendelssohn and Glinka.

The folk tune “Spin, oh my spinner” forms the basis of the Scherzo movement, and Swarowsky pays a great deal of attention to the interior lines while the strings, brass and tympani carry the galloping main idea. The syncopes of the Trio combine something of Haydn’s wit with Russian peasant stock. The pizzicato already forecast the composer’s textural facility in the Fourth Symphony. The folk tune “The Crane” provides the impetus for the Finale, and a family resemblance exists between the opening sonority and Mussorgsky’s 1874 Pictures at an Exhibition. Tchaikovsky, however, reverts to a bold Russian dance, heavily syncopated and orchestrated in a series of dazzling colors that once more anticipate the Fourth Symphony. A resonant power invests the Swarowsky reading that belies its age and any sound limits from the original mono LP incarnation.

It hardly seems appropriate to entitle the D Major Symphony (1875) a “symphony,” since it more resembles an extended ballet suite. The one movement marked “Tempo di polacca” must suffice for the epithet “Polish” for this unwieldy score. The orchestration, however, sets the work apart as an advance in Tchaikovsky’s arsenal of color syntax. The last movement contributes to the influence of Beethoven on Tchaikovsky’s “cyclic” propensities. Swarowsky fashions a performance fleet and muscular, resonant in the strings, winds, and brass. Having first heard this work with Sir Thomas Beecham from 1947, I might find that reading over refined and lacking in virility compared to this resolute interpretation. A reading from Lorin Maazel in this work would well emulate much of the Swarowsky ethos. A delicate waltz, the Alla tedesca trips and sways lightly. Bucolic in spirit, the Andante elegiaco celebrates the natural world without the later neuroses of the symphonies that “autobiographically” depict the composer’s tortured self-doubts. It concludes much like a “scene de ballet.” The fleet but studied Scherzo: Allegro vivo moves in facile palette in winds and strings, the flute part pure Mendelssohn. The rather ponderous dance of the last movement moves with what grace Swarowsky can muster in the broken string line, but the Vienna winds carry the textural interest, for my money. The typical “German” ploy in counterpoint merely attempts to confirm Tchaikovsky’s self estimate as an international composer.

—Gary Lemco

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