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Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5; Capriccio Italien

Tchaikovsky / Pco Of Ny / Mitropoulos
Release Date: 11/12/2013 
Label:  Guild   Catalog #: 2396   Spars Code: ADD 
Composer:  Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Conductor:  Dimitri Mitropoulos
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 59 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 5 1. Capriccio Italien Dimitri Mitropoulos, cond; New York PO GUILD 2396, 1 mono and stereo (59:29)

Many years ago a friend of mine, now deceased, was listening with me to Igor Markevitch’s marvelous recording of the Tchaikovsky Fifth when he said to me, “You know, this is one symphony I really do wish that Toscanini had recorded. I’m so sick of hearing this Read more Symphony played with Romantic gushiness; he would have played it like Markevitch does.” Well, dear readers, if you are one of those who have always felt this way, too, you need feel badly no longer. Just run, do not walk, to pick up this new rerelease by Guild of Dimitri Mitropoulos’s 1954 recording of the Symphony. It’s even tighter and less romantically inflected than Markevitch’s.

Of course, the movement where nearly everyone turns into goo is the second, whose horn theme was adapted in the late 1930s to create the pop song Moon Love . Yes, Markevitch does allow a certain amount of rubato here to give the theme its due, but as soon as the winds enter he is in no-nonsense mode. But it was precisely this movement that kept Toscanini from performing the Symphony; he absolutely hated it, found it to be not much better than sentimental claptrap, and said so often and loudly to his musician friends. I don’t know what he thought of this recording by his good friend and colleague (I know that he often listened to recordings by artists he admired, even in retirement), but he might have approved of the way Mitropoulos plays it. As I say, the sentiment is minimal, and the outburst in the middle of the movement sounds exciting despite the sonic limitations of the time. When the “horn theme” returns, now played by the strings, Mitropoulos employs some interesting “lagging” effects at the ends of phrases, which he then makes up for when the winds enter by increasing the tempo slightly.

Alas, there is nothing that Mitropoulos can make of the third movement, simply because the music here is perfunctory and not the least bit original or inventive. I’ve always felt as if Tchaikovsky begrudgingly wrote this movement simply because tradition dictated a scherzo between the slow movement and the Finale. To me, this is the weakest of the four movements, not the often-sentimentalized second. In the fourth movement, however, both conductor and orchestra come alive; this is music making of an extraordinarily high order, architectonically impressive and on a par with some of Toscanini’s best Tchaikovsky. As usual in Columbia’s mono recordings of the hi-fi era, there’s a certain amount of tubbiness in the soundspace, perhaps a little too much, but producer Goddard Lieberson didn’t want his New York Philharmonic recordings to have the claustrophobic acoustic of Toscanini’s Carnegie Hall recordings.

The Capriccio Italien is one of Mitropolous’s few stereo recordings, made during his last year with the orchestra (1957). One of the more interesting and curious features of this work is that it is based on an Italian folk song, Bella ragazza dalle trecce bionde (“Beautiful girl with blond braids”), which was recorded acoustically for Pathé by Tito Schipa and a male quartet that sounds like a prehistoric doo-wop group (it’s the slow melody played by the clarinets, then the trumpets). Here, too, Mitropoulos performs the music with great structural integrity, and the sound—excepting the tinny-sounding cymbals—is clearer in focus than in the Symphony.

Mitropoulos’s years with the Philharmonic were not, despite the excellence of many of the recordings, happy ones. As I was growing up in the northern New Jersey area, stories were rife of the shameful way the musicians treated him, often sabotaging his concerts with lackadaisical playing, only giving their best for recording sessions because they knew that critics would hear them. In any case, this is an outstanding release and well worth your hearing.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 5 in E minor, Op. 64 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Conductor:  Dimitri Mitropoulos
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1888; Russia 
Date of Recording: 03/27/1954 
Venue:  Columbia 30th Street Studio, New York Ci 
Length: 42 Minutes 30 Secs. 
Capriccio italien, Op. 45 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Conductor:  Dimitri Mitropoulos
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1880; Russia 
Date of Recording: 04/22/1957 
Venue:  Columbia 30th Street Studio, New York Ci 
Length: 16 Minutes 14 Secs. 

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