TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74 “Pathetique;” Serenade for Strings in C Major, Op. 48 – Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/ Daniele Gatti – Harmonia mundi

by | Feb 9, 2006 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74 “Pathetique;” Serenade for Strings in C Major, Op. 48 – Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/ Daniele Gatti – Harmonia mundi Multichannel SACD HMU 807394,  76:24 ****:

This performance of the much-familiar Pathetique Symphony plays like a demonstration CD for the principals of the Royal Philharmonic, for flute Andrew Nicholson, tympani Matthew Perry, and bassoon Daniel Jemison, among others. Broad tempos and pregnant pauses mark conductor Gatti’s approach, the kind of Romantic treatment we have enjoyed with everyone from Furtwaengler to Karajan to Bernstein. I do find Gatti’s reading of the B Minor more compelling than I did his rather pedestrian–but equally well recorded–F Minor Symphony. The explosion to the Allegro non troppo in the first movement made me jump; but so had Rodzinski’s reading from the 1940’s with the New York Philharmonic. Great horn section from the RPO – almost a Wagnerian sound. Explicitly designated a surround sound SACD, the impact of the double basses, bass clarinet, tuba, tympani, and flute prior to and during  the melancholy second theme at the recapitulation manages to swallow up your listening space.

The sensuous timbre of the low strings and basses marks the 5/4 Allegro con grazia in D, the pizzicati and horn punctuations both crisp and diaphanous. Gatti here reveals a nice ear for sonic detail, as in the prominence of the repeated Ds in the tympani and the even flow of the string line. I am reminded of Fricsay or Markevitch’s fiery balletic perspective, although Gatti adds more dramatic weight than Markevitch. The Scherzo cannot decide at first if it wishes to become a tarantella or a march, but the uneasy martial sensibility prevails. Great horn triplets high and low. When the clarinets announce the march the winner at measure 71, it is all business thereafter, the pizzicati blistering, the whirling figures more menaced by long-held brass notes. This vertiginous movement alone should qualify as a demo cut for anyone’s sound system! A perfect foil to the ecstatic madness comes in the B Minor Adagio, with consolations in D Major. Motifs from the opening movement, particularly descending scale passages, hint at Schumann’s cyclicism. Gatti presents the main theme in hushed stillness, graduating the Dantesque plunge to the abyss, given its self-indulgent paroxysms of buzzing orchestration. The emotional bleakness increases with tam tam and and horn insinuating themselves from a despairing black hole. The double basses, with their fateful triplets, might be a gavel of divine justice.  I must admit, of all the Gatti I have auditioned to date, this reading of the Pathetique is the first real piece of evidence that he deserves the hype he receives.

The Serenade proves rather an anticlimax to the Symphony; maybe I was too knocked out after the throes of the Pathetique to absorb another sonic monolith. Gorgeous strings in chromatic, polyphonic Technicolor create a thick Russian carpet of woven velvet. While the impulse may have been Mozart’s divertimenti, the sonic patina is Alfred Nobel’s. Gatti holds the last chord of the waltz statement a la Furtwaengler, but he cannot elicit that German conductor’s tragic mystery. Nice work in the subito diminuendi Gatti ushers from his second violins. The Elegie is Russian cream; the Tema Russo finale bristles like a cat in heat. Considering that Sir Thomas Beecham inscribed neither the Pathetique nor the Serenade with his Royal Philharmonic, we must be grateful to have such massive testimonials to the power of this ensemble when its conductor really gets them moving.

–Gary Lemco

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