TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 1 in G minor, Op. 13 “Winter Dreams”; KALINNIKOV: Symphony No. 1 in G minor – Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra/ Fabien Sevitzky – Pristine Audio PASC 560, 75:21 [www.pristineclassical.com] ****:
Tchaikovsky called his 1868 (rev. 1874 and 1888) his First Symphony “a sin of my sweet youth” and retained an affection for the youthful score, which had initially received harsh criticism from Anton Rubinstein and Cesar Cui. By 1888, however, the First Symphony found a favorable reception, and Tchaikovsky bestowed the mood label “Winter Dreams” upon the music himself. Fabien Sevitzky, the first to record the work (19 March 1946), finds freshness and inventive color in the piece that continues to charm. The opening Allegro tranquillo set by flute and bassoon invokes some pungent chromatics in the orchestra and a degree “academic” counterpoint that Tchaikovsky invokes to certify his credentials as a “classical” composer. The Indianapolis oboe sets the tone for the emotionally effective Andante cantabile ma non tanto, which purports to describe a “Land of Desolation, Land of Mists.” The muted and then full strings of the orchestra guarantee the warm fullness of the music in its rich statement. Tchaikovsky had composed an early Piano Sonata in C-sharp Minor whose Mendelssohnian character provides the energy for the Scherzo: Allegro scherzando giocoso third movement. The glossy middle section, a seductive waltz, finds a rapturous color in Mark Obert-Thorn’s sonic restoration. This kind of waltz pattern provides an obvious model for Tchaikovsky’s spiritual protégé, Glazunov. A grumpy Russian folksong serves as the basis for the last movement, Finale: Andante lugubre – Allegro maestoso, which favors circuitous harmonic routes when the secondary tempo erupts. Once more, Tchaikovsky opts for polyphonic procedure to secure the work a place in the “classical” canon. The string work from Sevitzky does him the kind of credit we usually attribute to his more famous relative, Serge Koussevitzky. The cumulative momentum of the heavily “Russified” finale – courtesy of strings, brass, timpani, and cymbals – has our collective hearts pounding and feet tapping.
Vassily Kalinnikov (1866-1901) lives on in the annals of music primarily on the basis of his First Symphony of 1897, although some claim his Second Symphony technically superior. Serge Rachmaninov remained a loyal supporter of Kalinnikov’s music, while Tchaikovsky recommended him to direct the Maly Theatre in Moscow. The First Symphony receives its first recorded performance by Fabien Sevitzky (7-8 January 1941), and Arturo Toscanini, too, found the work worthy of his efforts. The freshness and optimistic energy of the first movement Allegro moderato contains a good deal of counterpoint but no less a secondary melody that Borodin could envy. The fugal materials sing, expand, and then dissipate, perhaps leaving us curious as to their dramatic import, but the improvisatory character and sheer elan of the music carries us away.
The second movement Andante commodamente projects a kind of oriental luster, once more suggestive of but not derivative of Borodin. The music opens with a violin-harp series of diaphanous repeated chords that might nod to Rimsky-Korsakov and Cesar Cui. A Persian carpet unfolds in gossamer colors that could easily take us – and Sabu – to Bagdad. The stately ensuing dance, in interlaced harmony, gravitates between E-flat Major and G-sharp minor. The Indianapolis flute makes it sultry presence known. The ensuing Scherzo: Allegro non troppo – Moderato assai exchanges subtle veils of color for a rustic energy in tricky agogics that Tchaikovsky or Mussorgsky might exploit. The woodwind choir makes a fine canvas of the Trio section, the brass and strings having added some colorful curlicues of their own.
The last movement economically re-uses themes from prior movements, but in cleverly and audaciously scored combinations. A sense of creative freedom marks this music, improvisatory even as it recycles familiar motifs. The grand melody of movement one literally collides with energies from the slow movement; and once more, the penchant for abbreviated counterpoint makes its muscular appearance. The sense of playful enthusiasm, moreover, marks the realization by the Indianapolis players, eager to impress upon us a new work of singular gifts.
Many thanks to Mark Obert-Thorn and his Pristine collaborators for this fine addition, the fourth, to the under-rated legacy of conductor Fabien Sevitzky.
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