TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 6, “Pathetique” – MusicAeterna/ Teodor Currentzis – Sony 

TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 6 in b minor, Op. 74 “Pathetique” – MusicAeterna/ Teodor Currentzis – Sony 88985404352, 47:00 ****:

A much-touted interpretation of the Tchaikovsky Sixth Symphony has musical – if not fiscal – benefits.

Had my old colleague from “First Hearing,” conductor Richard Kapp, auditioned this recording of the familiar Tchaikovsky Sixth Symphony, he would likely have rebelled against its hype and denigrated what he would term its “slick production values.” Recorded at the Funkhaus, Nalepastrasse, Berlin (9-15 February 2015), the performance celebrates the Russian conducting pedagogue Ilya Musin (1903-1999), who instructed, among others, Yevgeny Mravinsky.  With a recording team led by Damien Quintard, the music benefits from close miking, so that the opening bassoon (Talgat Sarsembaev) and the Scherzo’s theme-leading clarinet (Valentin Uryupin) have their moments. In the febrile Allegro molto vivace, the oboe (Dmitry Bulgakov) and the trumpet fanfares (Joao Moreira, Pavel Kurdakov, Oliver Christian) inject a martial mania in clear, even clarion, voices that quite carry us forward, especially in the second, E Major march.  In the outer movements, the palpable, b minor/D Major gloom and spiritual despondency achieve their effect through the power of the MusicaAeterna strings, particularly the violas, cellos, and basses.

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But whether this effective performance will supplant a host of established classics of interpretation: Koussevitzky, Mengelberg, Furtwaengler, Mitropoulos, Talich, Celibidache, Rodzinski, Mravinsky, Fricsay, et al. remains conjecture. The richness in this reading lies in its clarity and articulation of line; for example, in the crispness of the fourths shot off in scales and interjections in the energized, neurotic Scherzo and its dark, pedal point undertones. Its marvelous fugato, too, exudes an eerie sense of impending calamity.  In his accompanying notes, conductor Currentzis calls the second movement Allegro con grazia, alternately, a waltz and a mortal heart-beat. The last movement, with its dirge-like progressions interrupted by savage whirlwinds, he calls a “sarabande” in the manner of Purcell. In both outer movements, conductor Currentzis has utilized pregnant pauses and silences—as had such masters Mengelberg, Celibidache, and Furtwaengler—to heighten the Romantic Agony that suffuses this epic opus. The bleating from the low winds in the Adagio adds a grotesque death rattle not soon forgotten. Impulse reigns here, in the form of violent sforzati that unnerve and enthrall us, at once.

Doubtless a labor of love and commitment, the performance warrants a devoted audition. But at 47 minutes, with no complementary overture or incidental music, we may not wish to purchase an interpretation that the LP format would have proffered a generation ago.

—Gary Lemco

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