The First is an appealing symphony and probably not likely to bore anyone due to being overplayed as with Nos. 4, 5 & 6. While a youthful work, the First has skillful orchestration and is brimming with the usual wonderful Tchaikovsky melodic genius. Only in the final movement is a genuine Russian folk tune quoted, but still the entire symphony has a strong Russian feeling about it. The opening of the work takes the listener right into a wide winter landscape scene in Russia with its bright main theme.
Tchaikovsky’s incidental Snow Maiden music was designed for a play which has similarities to The Rite of Spring in that it concerns folk legends and rites practiced at the start of Spring. The Snow Maiden is the daughter of The Frost and The Spring. She falls in love with a mortal but melts away at the first rays of the sun that were to celebrate their marriage. The Romeo and Juliet Overture is probably heard even more than Tchaikovsky’s later symphonies. It is a highly dramatic concert overture/tone poem summary of the Shakespearean drama. Järvi wrings the maximum emotional charge out of the potboiler, reminding me of Bernstein’s red-hot treatment of the score. The surround sound helps one’s involvement in the dramatic tale of the Montagues and Capulets.
– John Sunier