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Tchaikovsky: Symphony No 4 / Nelsons, Birmingham

Tchaikovsky / City Of Birmingham Sym Orch
Release Date: 09/23/2011 
Label:  Orfeo   Catalog #: 860111   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Conductor:  Andris Nelsons
Orchestra/Ensemble:  City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 4. Francesca da Rimini Andris Nelsons, cond; City of Birmingham SO ORFEO 860111 (63:44) Live: Birmingham 6/1–4/2011

I am undoubtedly one of the last Fanfare critics to have heard this phenomenal conductor on records, but I will most certainly be looking out for anything he issues in the future. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say that Andris Nelsons is the finest 30-year-old conductor I’ve Read more heard since Michael Tilson Thomas was himself 30, many years ago, and in some respects an even finer Tchaikovsky conductor than Markevitch and Svetlanov, as great as they were.

I make this judgment particularly with his performance of Francesca da Rimini, which has a sweep and drive that Svetlanov only hinted at. In fact, the fast opening section of the work rushes by the listener with gale force, as if one were sitting in a musical wind tunnel. In the Fourth Symphony, Nelsons does not seem to be quite as good as Svetlanov in binding together the slower passages of the first two movements, but upon careful relistening and comparing, I think that some of the problem is due to the sonics, which are far too boomy and reverberant. Yes, this is a live concert, and yes, nowadays there seems to be a preference on records for as ambient a sound as an engineer can produce, but I’m against it because it not only obscures orchestral detail (especially in soft passages) but dulls the impact of the interpretation.

And make no mistake, Nelsons is a master of orchestral sound, phrasing, pacing, and drama. I would describe his orchestral sound as “layered” or “stacked,” almost as if he were able to lay the sound of one section of the orchestra on top of another. This is not only different from the way most orchestras sound, but even different from the discrete section work that one heard in the recordings of Toscanini and Rodzinski. In his phrasing, Nelsons is more straightforward and less rhetorical than many German conductors who play this repertoire, but the almost electrifying emotion of his performances is closer in feeling to Furtwängler than the sometimes-cooler interpretations of Toscanini. Certainly in the last movement of the symphony Nelsons is just as blistering in tempo and febrile excitement as Svetlanov, and I never thought I would hear a living conductor equal that kind of intensity.

These are great performances by a great conductor, and although some readers despise comparisons I would hold out Nelsons as a measuring stick by which to judge other young conductors nowadays, especially Gustavo Dudamel, whose work I find to be formally precise but lacking in propulsion and intensity. If you do not have the Svetlanov Fourth in your collection, you can pick this disc up with very little regret. It’s that good.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Francesca da Rimini, Op. 32 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Conductor:  Andris Nelsons
Orchestra/Ensemble:  City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1876; Russia 
Symphony no 4 in F minor, Op. 36 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Conductor:  Andris Nelsons
Orchestra/Ensemble:  City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1877-1878; Russia 

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