TCHAIKOVSKY: Francesca da Rimini; Capriccio Italien; Serenade for Strings in C Major – Leningrad Philharmonic Orch./ Yevgeny Mravinsky – Melodiya

by | Mar 4, 2013 | Classical Reissue Reviews

TCHAIKOVSKY: Francesca da Rimini, Op. 32; Capriccio Italien, Op. 45; Serenade for Strings in C Major, Op. 48 – Leningrad Philharmonic Orch./ Yevgeny Mravinsky – Melodiya MEL CD 10 02031, 66:27 [Distr. by Allegro] ****:

The musical and dramatic association of conductor Yevgeny Mravinsky (1903-1988) with the scores of Peter Tchaikovsky endures as a natural, often torrential phenomenon. “There was a time when I listened to music and experienced shock just like a lightning or a thunder strike. Art must shake. Otherwise, it is not art.”  Such a “confrontational” credo well defines the resurrection of any of Mravinsky’s readings of Tchaikovsky: and here from Melodiya archives we have three classics: the E Minor symphonic poem Francesca da Rimini (1977) after Dante; the picturesque 1880 Capriccio Italien (1950); and the transparent beauties of the C Major String Serenade (1949).

The degree of graduated string and brass effects Mravinsky conjures for his cataclysmic “live” reading of Francesca quite produces the desired “whirlwind” of tormented love that permeates Dante’s vision in Canto V of Inferno. The tearful middle section – an account of how reading the romance of Sir Lancelot and Guinevere served as a “pander” for Francesca and her brother-in-law Paolo – wrings poignant emotions from an illumined string section of the Leningrad Philharmonic, those very strains that had induced Boris Pasternak to utter the poetic thought that “through the lovers’ tragic fate. . .Tchaikovsky harrowed us to tears, And rent the concert hall asunder.” The voluptuous torment has an exquisite pain in Mravinsky’s live performance, and the ecstatic bravos that ensue upon the last chords seem an inevitable outgrowth of tragic passion brilliantly rendered in music.

Fine trumpet work defines a surprisingly clear inscription – for the period and for Melodiya’s often wretched sound documents – of the Capriccio Italien from 1949. Even in the midst of color pageantry and Mediterranean high spirits, Mravinsky manages to infuse a sense of impending dread or dire tension in the minor progressions that precede the tarantella of the last section. The virtuosic reading of the extended concert rondo soon explodes with a panoply of effects, of which the trumpets and cornets contribute no mean triumph. The wild coda, Prestissimo, typifies the uncanny orchestral discipline the Leningrad Philharmonic could achieve when driven by its impassioned, often dictatorial conductor.

The Serenade for Strings (1880) means to emulate Mozart in its first movement, and its layered first-movement counterpoint certainly attests to Tchaikovsky’s mastery of Classical (i.e. German) style. Besides the decided marcatissimo of the introduction for the violins and violas, Mravinsky insists on a hearty legato when called for; the basses and cellos’ pizzicatos, too, sound as well defined as those in Koussevitzky’s esteemed reading for RCA. Mravinsky takes the Tempo di Valse at a brisk pace, not lingering particularly over its elegiac sentiment. The striking Elegia movement reminds us of Tchaikovsky’s stated feeling that this is “a work from the heart.” Richly expressive, Mravinsky’s intimate sway with this music speaks for a diaphanously personal as well as heroic side to his artistic credo. The folk idiom pervades the Finale and its Tema russo, the melodic pageant fatefully tied at the end to the pages of the opening Pezzo in forma di sonatina. The figures of the dance quite bristle under Mravinsky, and even the mono 1949 recording limits do not dissuade our relishing the vibrant enthusiasm of the reading.

—Gary Lemco