TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 6, “Pathetique” – Vienna Philharmonic Orch./ Valery Gergiev – Decca Pure Audio Blu-ray

by | May 6, 2014 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 6 in b, Op. 74 “Pathetique” – Vienna Philharmonic Orch./ Valery Gergiev – Decca 478 5001 Pure Audio Blu-ray (PCM 2.0, DTS MA HD 2.0, Dolby TrueHD 2.0, 24 bit/ 96 kHz), 43:59 [Distr. by Universal] ***:

I am referring everyone who reads these new Universal Blu-ray Pure Audio reviews to my review of the Kleiber Beethoven Symphonies 5 & 7 reissue for comments and details on this series in general. This 2004 recording was originally released on Philips as a SACD and is still available if you search for it, and at a reasonable price. This one of course is only two-channel and in Blu-ray format—and more expensive—so wade carefully through your options before buying. [I don’t know if Decca was still making multichannel masters in 2004. If so this will probably be reissued again in 5.0 sometime next year. If they had already switched to only stereo mastering, it won’t. This reviewer feels the SACD versions usually sound slightly better anyway…Ed.]

This is one of the most popular symphonies ever written, though I must admit that the older I get the less it feels relevant to me. It’s one of those over-the-top Tchaikovsky pieces that really pull out the emotional stops, and the unrelenting pessimism found in the concluding bars is simply not where I find myself these days. Oh, I can appreciate and even marvel at its wonders, and still be moved by it as well, but I don’t seek it out all that much anymore. This last of the “fate” symphonies is surely the most subjective thing the composer ever penned, and while he appears to have considered it his best piece, and even admitted to a programmatic element contained in the score, we will never know if he felt the impending grasps of the grim reaper which would sweep him away only eight days after he gave the premiere. [Exactly my feelings about the Sixth too…Ed.]

The quotes from the Russian Orthodox Requiem which bookend the movements of this piece would suggest some sort of tacit understanding of the program nature of this work. Gergiev suggests to us that he sees both joy and pessimism in the work, that of vigorous life before the end which inspires hope; I don’t know if I see it that way. To me the four movements are born in tragedy, pessimistic and volatile at the beginning with only a chronicle of intermittent life in the middle movements—one cannot get away from the enormous coloration that the last movement has on all that goes before, and it is this final utterance that we remember, as if all else is but ashes. Gergiev captures most of this in his reading, and it is a reasonable and valid interpretation of the work. But his innate power and briskness don’t match the “demonic” element he claims he finds here; Bernstein’s cathartic and unmatched dark pervasiveness in this piece perhaps persuades the most as to the dismal nature of the work, though most find it tough sledding for regular listening. Gergiev has in fact recorded it again recently though I have not heard that reading. As is I have to agree with Gary Lemco’s assessment of the first issue though for some slightly different reasons. Ormandy, Bernstein, and Giulini remain preferable, unless you really want two-channel DTS sound with a short total timing.

—Steven Ritter

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