TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 17 “Little Russian”; Symphony No. 3 in D Major, Op. 29 “Polish” – Cincinnati Sym. Orch./ Eugene Goossens/ National Sym. Orch./ Hans Kindler – Guild GHCD 2422, 70:05 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
For those old enough to have collected vinyl recordings, the pairing here of middle Tchaikovsky symphonies from RCA Victor 1940 and 1941 will bring back particular memories: I recall foraging through some bargain Camden label RCA records in a shop on Fordham Road in the Bronx, only to discover CAL-185, the 1872 (rev. 1880) Tchaikovsky Little Russian Symphony, as performed by a nameless conductor and the “Cromwell Symphony Orchestra.” Until I later replaced this “anonymous” performance with more “reputable” inscriptions by Dimitri Mitropoulos (CBS) and Carlo Maria Giulini (EMI), I had not known that Eugene Goossens (1893-1962) had led the really energetic Camden label performance from Cincinnati (20 February 1941) in the work’s first complete inscription. Critic and commentator Irving Kolodin would eventually clear up the series of Camden label entries – and their concomitant contract disputes – to identify the many classic renditions of great music from conducts Stokowski, Koussevitzky, Kindler, Defauw, and others.
The Goossens recording typifies that conducting’s brilliant, muscular style. String articulation remained Goossens’ strong suit, and his emphasis on instrumental definition even within the contours of fast tempos ensues that his Little Russian Symphony does not dawdle. Besides the composer’s use of Ukrainian folk tunes as melodic sources, the work follows the Beethoven Fifth Symphony’s harmonic progression from C Minor to C Major. Goossens’ staid tempo in the second movement, Andantino marziale, transforms the original bridal march, from the opera Undine, into a buoyant progression. The last movement, vivacious and eminently colorful, employs a folk tune, “The Crane,” that has the Cincinnati winds and brass section in splendid temper. The Guild transfer by Peter Reynolds well justifies our restoration of this reading to the “select few” category of notable interpretations.
Cellist-turned-conductor Hans Kindler (1892-1949) inscribed the 1875 Tchaikovsky Third Symphony for RCA (8 November 1940), mostly – excepting 40 redundant measures in the outer two movements – without the devastating cuts that Albert Coates had employed in his 1932 version in London. The Kindler rendition would itself be supplanted in the RCA catalogue by the 1947 performance from Sir Thomas Beecham. While the National Symphony Orchestra seemed forever to struggle with budgets and financial constraints, Kindler managed to maintain (1931-1949) the quality of its personnel – despite frequent turnover from his abrasive personality – to glean for the ensemble the same respect accorded to the Boston and Philadelphia ensembles.
In contrast to the last three of his symphonies, the Third Symphony bears more in common with Tchaikovsky’s orchestral suites, as a splendid exercise in instrumental color and the evolution of folk-based materials. We detect little – excepting the opening bars in the manner of a funeral march – psychological complexity or emotional angst in the progression of its five movements, and the composer himself claimed it “possesses few particularly successful ideas.” But as a prelude to his scoring of the ballet Swan Lake, the music – as in the waltzy Alla tedesca second movement – can be striking and evocative. The slow tread of the bassoon behind the other winds smacks of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. The appellation “Polish” persists from a British conductor’s impression that, somehow, the last movement’s use of a polonaise tempo justified thus characterizing the work as a whole. Some fine woodwind execution urges the Andante elegiaco forward, a bucolic, decidedly “Russian” evocation that rivals the comparable color work in the Suite No. 3. Its molto espessivo section, in the flutes and horns, suggests the resonant power – the darker scoring easily recalling moments from Weber operas – that Kindler could elicit when he felt inspired. The fleet Scherzo – Allegro vivo recalls how many Russian composers find Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream textures compelling. The strings of the National Symphony appear to relish Tchaikovsky’s constant call for pizzicato effects. In the last movement, a stately polonaise with variations, Tchaikovsky turns to a couple of his standard options, staccato triplets and (German) fugato, the latter to “legitimize” his Classical credentials. The scale of the Finale conveys the grandeur we associate with the dances Tchaikovsky employs in his operas, like Evgeny Onegin. The air of triumph culminates in a last page entirely dominated by Ds, a resplendent sound that justified your having purchased this LP back in the day, CAL-182.