Due to medical procedures, financial ills, and just plain winter lethargy, I’ve neglected reviewing classical music recordings. That ends now. Thanks to Naxos Records’ new Critic’s Download Portal, I have almost endless access to new and old recordings from well known and not so well known labels. I can explore and pass along my findings to you.
It happened that I was hit with three recordings of Tchaikovsky’s last symphony, the ‘Pathetique,” in a row. The one from maestro Manfred Honeck and the Pittsburgh Symphony on Reference Recordings has received the most publicity. The pubic seems to have roared their approval for the German conductor’s testosterone laden readings of the basic repertory in a most fanatical manner. I’m not that big a fan, but have to admit that he has the Pittsburgh players performing exceptionally well and that his Tchaikovsky 6th, though slightly eccentric, has its moments. Honeck writes his own program notes, exceptionally well, it must be said, and outlines and defends his reasons for doing certain passages a particular way. The sound for the Pittsburgh recordings, however, has been relegated to an outfit called Soundmirror and not to Reference Recordings usual excellent team. And I have yet to be convinced that Soundmirror can make a recording that is half as good as those Reference turned in consistently with the Minnesota Orchestra. The main fault is that there’s just too much sound, which dulls the precise execution of the orchestral choirs and muddies their interface.
On the other hand, LPO Live has gotten live recording down to an art and produces recordings that are well balanced and exciting. One is more aware of the performances than the sound, which is probably as it should be. The Russian maestro and Music Director of the London Philharmonic is young Vladimir Jurowski and on the LPO Live double release he turns in a reading Of Tchaikovsky’s “Pathetique” that is absolutely superb. He creates passion and tension and gets precise playing from his Brit musicians, but never crosses the line from sentiment to sentimentality, an easy thing to do in this music, finding not only drama, but lyricism and ballet references in this interpretation. Moreover, his “filler piece” is perhaps the best recording of Tchaikovsky’s First Symphony (“Winter Daydreams,” or “Winter Reveries”) that I’ve every heard. In treating this early work just like one of the later ones, he causes us to discover that it is, indeed, a great piece of music, not the trifle it is usually thought to be. Honeck’s “filler,” by the way is opera for orchestra, a suite from Dvorak’s Russalka.
Finally, on the BIS audiophile label, we find a curious yet successful against all odds performance of Tchaikovsky’s 6th from Thomas Dausgaard and his Swedish Chamber Orchestra. Dausgarrd has been playing big pieces with his smaller forces to expose their inner voices and make us aware of their construction. Since his orchestra is first-rate, this often works – as it does here. I wouldn’t want to have his as my only recording of this piece, but it is surely worth a listen or two to hear those marvelous woodwind parts so immaculately played. The sturdy filler is a crackerjack performance of Tchaiokvsky’s Romeo & Juliet.
All of these recordings are available as downloads, or on disc, from Naxos America’s Classics on Line. On disc the Honeck and Dausgaard performances are Hybrid SACD’s, with multichannel surround.