TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 17 “Little Russian”; Serenade for Strings in C Major, Op. 48 – USSR State Symphony Orchestra/ Evgeni Svetlanov – Regis

by | Apr 23, 2007 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 17 “Little Russian”; Serenade for Strings in C Major, Op. 48 – USSR State Symphony Orchestra/ Evgeni Svetlanov

Regis RRC 1266 67:37 *****:

It has become politically correct to address Tchaikovsky’s Second Symphony as his “Ukranian” Symphony; but the reasons, besides avoiding some pejorative, emotional dimension, are that the composer utilized a number of folk tunes from a collection of national airs in his orchestral tissue. Evgeni Svetlanov (1928-2002) pulls out the stops, as is his wont, for this 1967 performance, the USSR strings and horns encouraged to apply a rough, slightly unpolished sound that adds a folkish acerbity to the sound we might ordinarily expect in Bartok. 

Svetlanov employs the Russian collected edition of Tchaikovsky, as opposed to the Breitkopf. In the C Major Serenade, we hear the difference in the absence of ritards and diminuendi, and a burst of C Major at the end of the Andante non troppo. The Andante marciale of the Symphony begins lugubriously slow, adding color by way of winds, horns, cellos to augment the heavy-footed tympani and plucked upper strings. The first part borrows from Tchaikovsky’s opera Ondine, while the middle section quotes Spin, oh my spinner, and we can hear – “wheel” effects in the figurations. The whole opens up majestically, having become a pilgrim’s march not far from Wagner’s Tannhauser. Gruffly energetic chords open the Scherzo, the piccolo and flute in high fettle over the top. The movement’s busy agogics look quite forward to Stravinsky who was himself forever fond of this piece. A heavy, perhaps overly monumental statement of The Crane, upon which Tchaikovsky lavishes his genus for variations. What Klemperer does for German music Svetlanov applies more rustically to this Ukrainian romp. Alternately stamping and exploding, the theme thunders forth through the cymbals and then to the gentle secondary tune. I guess since Mravinsky didn’t record this work in exquisite granite, Svetlanov decided he would.

Strings to take your breath away, sayeth the prophet. The 1970 inscription by Svetlanov of the Serenade challenges my capacity for adjectives. Better to listen to this wonder and read the love scene from Romeo and Juliet. I have been enamored of this strong Tchaikovsky opus ever since Munch and Koussevitzky’s Boston performances beguiled me; then, the two excerpts from Furtwaengler. A firm, viscerally focused musical line sweeps over everything, the cellos deep from the heart of Russia, a real serenade to music. Watch out for that extra chord at the end of the Pezzo in forma di sonatina! Is this the most aggressive Valse on record? The Elegia might well stand for music to be heard at the tomb of Pushkin, so haunted is it. Given the tragic events at Virginia Tech this week, it certainly brought on intimations of sad mortality. Mystery for the Finale, the Thema Russo, a study in ensemble breath-control. When the theme finally comes in, a thousand balalaikas play it, surrounded by the “voice of a thousand waters,” to paraphrase Ezekiel. Repeated hearings only confirm the nuances! If I doubted that this Tchaikovsky piece had roots in Russian orthodoxy, this performance disabuses me. Among the Best of the Year, period.

— Gary Lemco

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