125 – Tchaikovsky Pathetique Symphony and Romeo and Juliet Overture – Ivan Fischer – Channel
CCSACD 21704 69 minutes
Romeo and Juliet Overture
Budapest Festival Orchestra
This is a very accomplished performance of the Fourth Symphony of Tchaikovsky, but whether you will buy this disc will ultimately depend on whether you like the approach that Ivan Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra take. They enter a hugely crowded market Markevitch, Mravinsky, and Monteux (just to name three Ms who proved themselves exceptional in this symphony) as well as Szell with the Cleveland Orchestra and Abbado with the Chicago are all must-haves in any self-respecting lover of Tchaikovskys symphonies and I think that while this performance can hold its own with those listed above, the new release distinguishes itself through the quality of the playing rather than any revelations in the interpretation.
The fourth is probably the most problematic of the last three symphonies of Tchaikovsky. The first movement goes on for about 18 to 20 minutes and one either coaxes the listeners attention or takes him by the cuffs and forces him to listen. My personal favourite, Igor Markevitch with the London Symphony (on Decca 438 335-2, with the fifth and sixth symphonies in tow), belongs firmly in the latter school, with an performance that impresses and dazzles as much as it arrests your attention, defying you to turn the player off. This version is cooler in temperament and while not lacking in passion, relies on the use of orchestral detail to guide the listener along the twists and turns of the first movement rather than signposting at the climaxes.
The rest of the movements are as authentic as any Tchaikovskys music was the most cosmopolitan of all his compatriots and Id say that this version sounds as Russian as any of the modern Russian orchestras. The pizzicato Scherzo is notable for the gradation in dynamics, while the Finale is as festive as any Ive heard, without being taken at the breakneck pace that some recordings are taken at. The result is a solid, well-nourished performance that impresses based on the orchestral detail that the conductor manages to coax out of the Budapest Festival Orchestra as well the first-rate playing.
The Romeo and Juliet Overture has much of the same qualities Fischer manages to be narrative in his conception of the work, with clear, well-defined orchestral textures. The lyrical themes are not maudlin, as some versions can tend to be, making this an excellent filler!
The Budapest Festival Orchestra are a crack band of players and they and their conductor Ivan Fischer deserve the recording quality that Channel Classics can provide with their hybrid-SACD medium, but if you dont have an SACD capable player, you can enjoy much of the excellent recorded quality nonetheless treat it as an investment for the future. In the final analysis, this version of the fourth symphony will appeal to anyone interested in the orchestra and their conductor, as well as anyone looking for a first-rate performance in very good sound. If youre interested in something rip-roaring or dont have any of the mandatory versions listed above, why not try those first?