TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 5 in e, Op. 64; Francesca da Rimini, Op. 32 – Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/ Mariss Jansons, conductor – BR Klassik multichannel SACD 900105, 69:48 [Distr. by Naxos] ***:
This is a very mainline Tchaik 5 that for the most part satisfies very nicely, and fires on all cylinders. Jansons’s Bavarians play nicely with no gaffs, and the string sound is quite lush and pointed, as it should be for this symphony. The surround sound is very good, though not as good as this work has already received on record, with the brass a little hidden in the overall sonic structure.
Jansons does some nice things with this work in his phrasing and fearlessness in taking some interpretative chances, and I like that very much. For instance, his introduction to the first movement is not overdone and lethargic, like his competitor Eschenbach on Ondine; he achieves a nice balance among his various choirs, and the tempos make sense. But then in the second movement, at the reappearance of the big tune, he unexpectedly decides to greatly speed up the passage for dramatic effect. While I admire the risk, I think it fails miserably and ruins one of the most important dramatic moments in this symphony. Then again, at the conclusion of movement 4 he does some nice things with the dynamics that are not in the score (no big deal) that work very well.
But when I compare this with the two other SACD albums in my collection (the aforementioned Eschenbach/Philadelphia on Ondine and Yutaka Sado/German Symphony Orchestra Berlin on Challenge) overall I think Jansons places last. Eschenbach is very slow it is true, but his broader soundstage and gorgeous playing of the Fabulous Philadelphians gives him an edge in interpretative consistency. But the Sado disc is far and away the finest SACD of this symphony to date—superior, well-spread sonics and fantastic playing along with an interpretative vision that comes closest to that of Bernstein on his DGG recording from 1990, still the best, most exciting version on record in my opinion, though I have very high regard for Szell/Cleveland and Philadelphia/Ormandy as well. Sado is something special, and if you want a quality SACD recording of this work that suffers no diminution in interpretation, you must have it.
To tell the truth I probably would not have noticed any of this had I not made comparisons, for like I said, Jansons is a very solid reading that entertains greatly. And the addition of his Francesca da Rimini is a very attractive proposition as the Bavarian players really dig into this thing, one of the best I have heard. But Sado also gives us a crackerjack March Slav so it all sort of evens out. I can’t not recommend this, but I would suggest that unless you are a genuine collector that must have multiple copies of pieces like this, that you try the Sado first—you won’t be disappointed.
— Steven Ritter