I admit I approach any new recordings of these, my favorite Tchaikovsky symphonies, with a bit of trepidation. Over the years I’ve encountered one too many recordings, as well as concert performances, that lay on the incurable Romanticism a bit too thick. Thematic presentations are muddled and tempos are stretched so that each movement, regardless of the tempo indication, seems to plod at the same pace.
It’s as if some conductors believed that Tchaikovsky, who always wore his heart on his sleeve, needed help expressing his feelings.
That’s what makes these new recordings by Vladimir Jurowski and his London Philharmonic so refreshing and so welcome. This is Tchaikovsky detoxed. Both symphonies express his grappling with Fate, and all the power, anguish, and beauty of his music pour forth without added varnish.
Perhaps it takes a Russian conductor to lay bare this Russian composer’s soul? Perhaps, but these are tightly controlled yet extremely electrifying live performances. The conductor and orchestra are both ‘on.’
No sagging tempos here, and the music is well paced. Jurowski keeps a steady beat and lets the musical events unfold naturally so that the drama builds effectively from within. Jurowski’s andantes sing but never tarry and his occasionally daringly fast allegros burst with excitement.
The various musical themes expressing hopelessness, melcancholy, capriciousness, love, and ultimately, joyous affirmation are strongly and sharply delineated by Jurowski’s superb band of Londoners, who never get in the way of each other or the musical line. Ensemble playing is tight; entrances and phrasing are impeccably clean, even at the softest levels; handoffs between orchestral choirs are seamless. I was simply wowed by these performances.
Other incurable romantics will be, too.