Yevgeny Mravinsky in Moscow = SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 8 in B Minor, D. 759 “Unfinished”; TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36 – Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra/Yevgeny Mravinsky – Praga Digitals stereo-only hybrid SACD, PRD/DSD 350 053, 66:42 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
The Moscow concert of 24 April 1959 with Leningrad Philharmonic under its music director Yevgeny Mravinsky (1903-1988) created a sensation for those present, the concert having begun with Weber’s fiery Euryanthe Overture, whose length precluded its inclusion in this reissue. Never a sentimentalist, Mravinsky still remains a romantic interpreter, albeit one committed to an objective, icy delineation of all musical particulars. The opening bars of the B Minor Schubert Symphony allow unison clarinet and oboe to usher in the most famous of all Schubert melodies in the strings, the tension as fateful as any moment in Beethoven’s Fifth. The flute theme, rather than bestowing a balm, only provides a transition to an interior menace and darkness, the repeat no less haunted (later, in the development, in E Minor) than the outset. Mravinsky’s treatment proves quite expansive; not leisurely, but swollen with graduated anguish that we might ascribe to a Furtwaengler realization, were it not for the cool patina that coils around and envelops the tragic procession. The recapitulation, misterioso, particularly invokes visions of the German master of the Austrian tradition, the homogeneous, Leningrad strings in creamy harmony. The brooding, introductory bars takes us full circle, with interjected pauses, to which the oboe, brass and low strings seal an ineluctable doom. How that sound pickup loves the trombones!
The Andante con moto by Mravinsky offers as much tenderness from his strict, disciplinarian’s hand as I have ever heard him utter. Shades of the Mozart E-flat Major, K. 543 Symphony flutter through the cadences, mitigated by something of the Austrian countryside. Intense, etched figures from clarinet, oboe, and flute receive a Dantesque descent in answer from the swirling mass that follows, the Leningrad bass section as unruffled in its melodic surface as the colder areas of the Baltic Sea. The plangent march takes on an organ sonority, answered by flute and winds, pizzicato strings, and a gracious lyricism, a dirge, rife with forgiveness for a fallen world. The music ends in a rapt silence, no audience applause to break a remarkable spell cast over one of the musical wonders bequeathed from Austria’s greatest poet.
Another level of monumentality emerges from the outset of the Tchaikovsky “Fate” Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, a work Mravinsky ceased to program after 1960. The almost merciless clarity of line stands in stark opposition to Tchaikovsky’s need for emotional consolation, otherwise produced by the presence of folk songs. The musical execution, given the relentless pursuit of the brass and woodwind lines against the strings, proves nothing less than virtuosic, each plummet of the musical line a descent into Poe’s maelstrom. The first movement clearly falls into periods or emotional sections, no less intricate and convoluted than we find in Bruckner.
The imaging of the flute and fluttering string figures–balletic in the midst of Hades, perhaps an homage to Gluck–quintessentially advocates for the grace and heartfelt pathos in the score, once again close to the famed reading by Furtwaengler with the Vienna Philharmonic. Intimacy gives way to the austere, Romanesque brutality of the trumpet work, shattering in the digital sonics. The development evolves without any sag in the emotional tension of the line, no matter the texture of the sound image. At one transition, Mravinsky literally hushes the dynamics, only to rebuild the fury from the bottom, the trumpets diving out of the Apocalypse. When trombone and flute engage in the recap’s dialogue, Time itself seems to have stopped to listen. Emblazoned heraldry replaces emotional bathos in Mravinsky, the gripping of grand, Manichean forces is what drives him. Perhaps the interior voices of the Andantino yield to a grim nostalgia in guarded timbres; for the ensuing Pizzicato ostinato will not relinquish its air of gloom. The Finale becomes an embodiment of Mravinsky himself, a stoical, imperturbable force of nature, directed or compelled by a sense that moving finger has written and moved on. [It’s unusual that a stereo recording was made in Russia only a year after the stereodisc was first launched, but the fidelity of the SACD layer is exceptional and how anyone could claim it sounds just the same as the standard CD layer is beyond me…Ed.]