TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphonies Nos. 1-3 – London Sym. Orch./ Valery Gergiev – LSO Live multichannel SACDs LSO 0710 (2 discs) TT: 125:56 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] *****:
This is a bit of challenge for me since I haven’t compared all the top-rated recordings of these early Tchaikovsky symphonies; thee are over 500 recordings of different Tchaikovsky symphonies in the catalog, but the last three get all the attention, with there not being many of the first three symphonies. And no others of all three of them in one SACD package, such as this one. There are 53 CDs of the Third Symphony alone. Most of the single SACDs of Symphonies 1, 2 & 3 are on expensive Japanese labels, plus a couple featuring Neeme Jarvi on BIS, and all three on PentaTone with Pletnev conducting.
Valery Gergiev is regarded as one of the outstanding conductors of today. As Artistic and General Director of the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, he oversees the Kirov Orchestra, Ballet and Opera, and this exciting set has him conducting the London Symphony Orchestra. He also launched the Mariinsky SACD label. He is known for his all-out, energetic and enthusiastic style, which seems to come to fore in some Tchaikovsky. He already got good marks for his traversal of the final three Tchaikovsky symphonies on the Mariinsky label, and here are the first three—much less well-known but filled with richly expressive melodies. They are more balletic and suite-like than the familiar later three symphonies, as the composer was sort of feeling his way toward a more perfected symphonic language.
The top-rated recordings of these three seem to be Bernstein, Karajan and Temirkanov. Nit-pickers will find things to carp about Gergiev’s performances. For one, his usual enthusiasm seems dampened in some almost funereally-paced tempi. The First (“Winter Dreams”) and Third (“Polish”) are still superb in my estimation, with the Third sounding almost like a Tchaikovsky ballet score. It is the Second (“Little Russian”) that, while refined and accurate, rather drags along with the usual Gergiev enthusiasm. Its several themes are adaptations of Ukrainian folksongs.
But it is the usual excellent LSO Live hi-res surround sonics on this pair of bargain-priced SACDS which for me makes them a winner on my system.