Järvi is conductor emeritus of the Gothenburg Symphony and is well into a fine Tchaikovsky Symphony series with the band on BIS, having already recording SACDs of Nos. 1, 5 and 6. Each comes with interesting Tchaikovsky filler selections, and this new one brings us three of those.
The Little Russian has long been my favorite of the Russian composer’s symphonies, partly because it’s not overplayed like some of the others. The subtitle is a reference to the Ukraine region, which Russian at the time referred to at Little Russia. The work uses some Ukrainian folk songs, in fact it starts right out with one as a main theme. The attractive melodies give the entire symphony a rather optimistic outlook that differs from the depression and gloom of some of his other symphonies. The strange little march that appears in the second movement keeps coming back and doesn’t want to go away, returning again in the finale. The Scherzo movement is again based on a folk tune, in a dance-like framework. The finale is mix of many elements heard before, and reminds me of the Fourth Symphony, with a bit more contrapuntal activity.
The little overture is an early student work, and the composer said he thought the Festive Overture was superior to his 1812 Overture as a work making pomp and circumstance out of a famous national melody. We might agree only because we’re not listening to the 1812 yet again. The Storm is a fascinating and rarely-heard Tchaikovsky work of about a quarter-hour length. Written when he was just a composition student, the tone poem is based on a drama about a merchant’s daughter who lives under the strong will of her mother-in-law (the Russian work Groza also means “reign of terror”). When the husband she was forced to marry is away, the young woman flees to the arms of her lover, but is later so consumed by guilt that during a powerful storm she confesses and commits suicide. The over-the-top orchestration and rambling structure is really something – sort of Rimsky-Korsakov crossed with Berlioz. I wish Tchaikovsky had kept up this approach in some of his symphonies.
The stereo SACD option is excellent, with great clarity of the various instrumental sections. But the surround mix captures the ambiance of the orchestra’s own hall space perfectly using five channels without the subwoofer. Going back to either of the two-channel mixes results in a very flat frontal acoustic.
– John Sunier