Koussevitzky conducts TCHAIKOVSKY = Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36; Waltz from Serenade for Strings, OP. 48; Serenade in C for Strings, Op. 48 – Boston Symphony Orchestra/Serge Koussevitzky
Pristine Audio PASC 247, 75:06 [avail. in various formats from pristineclassical.com] ****:
Serge Koussevitzky (1874-1951) endures as the great conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, 1924-1949, whose special sound Koussevitzky honed to a glossy perfection. “It took me twenty-five years to make that string tone,” he boasted. Always passionate–if not particularly literal–in his performances, Koussevitzky could make the music he championed–the Russians of course dominating his preferences–a visceral epic experience. Pristine here skillfully remasters the 1949 Tchaikovsky recordings made for RCA, each of which testifies to a fervent commitment and wickedly incisive orchestral discipline.
The major work, the Fourth Symphony (26 April 1949) appeared–after its metamorphoses through 78s and 45 rpm–on LM 1008, among Koussevitzky’s most revered inscriptions. The entire reading blazes with natural color and persuasive rhythms, the ‘fate motif’ often assuming the more consoling character of a sturdy dance. The brilliant string work–a BSO trademark–shines in the pizzicati of the Scherzo. What most impresses us, Koussevitzky’s explosive intensity, permeates each measure of this overtly histrionic score, the two outer movements literally writhing in the throes of Romantic Agony or bombastic self-assertion.
Prior to the complete Serenade in C for Strings (16 August 1949, released as RCA LM 1056), we have the Valse movement recorded alone (27 April 1949) and used as a filler for the F Minor Symphony set. Its elegant, gliding pace differs only slightly from its August incarnation, with merely two seconds’ difference. Although the music expresses tragic tints, the Valse proper has little of the tortured angst Furtwaengler brought to his reading for EMI. More’s the pity Furtwaengler never inscribed the work entire. Koussevitzky’s surging Pezzo in forma di sonatina, however, does convey a haunted, lovingly etched sensibility, the BSO strings plastic, lithe, transparent, the counterpoint a masterful balance of forces. So, too, the elastically lilting Elegy third movement, which again assumes monumental proportions in Koussevtizky’s wonted heroism. Koussevitzky milks the Finale: Tema russo’s opening slow tempo to provide maximum contrast to the spirited tempo of its development, which culminates in a cyclic union with the first movement germ motif. Essential Tchaikovsky for the collector who desires full throttle at every moment played by the premier American ensemble of its time.
— Gary Lemco