Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 5
Gennady Rozhdestvensky, cond; BBC SO
ICA 5516 (68:38) Live:
Flanders Festival 29/9/1978;
Royal Albert Hall, London 25/8/1981
It is hard to resist Tchaikovsky, when he is conducted as idiomatically as this.
Not that one should … but recorded Fifth Symphonies are ubiquitous and range in character from the hysterical to the blatty, and from the plodding to the ultra-refined (think Tugan Sokhiev). So, why this one? Rozhdestvensky’s interpretation is wonderfully warm, velvety, and affectionate in the strings, a touch on the weighty and steady side, rather like what one would have expected from Sanderling in his day. It is a credit to the BBC Symphony/Rozhdestvensky partnership that the orchestra does not sound remotely British. His music directorship, short as it was, clearly left its mark. At critical moments, such as the great declamations in the slow movement, the brass manage to adopt just a touch of that “Soviet blare” which seems so appropriate in Russian Tchaikovsky performances (and so utterly improbable in Brahms and much else.) But one’s overall impression is of a natural sense of dignity. The music impresses with texture more than with forward motion, even in the Waltz movement. Tempos are moderate everywhere, but Rozhdestvensky does manage to galvanize considerable power where needed. The timpani explosion which sets the Finale going is irresistible, just not frantic. If this is meant to sound like a lukewarm endorsement, it isn’t. Moment for moment, the music means more this way. It has vertical beauty. The 1978 analog sound is smooth and transparent, though a bit dynamically limited, as listeners might expect from a broadcast. With the exception of a not very disabling blooper in the brass at the end, the orchestra plays flawlessly.
I was even more interested to see what Rozhdestvensky would do with the Janá?ek.
is in my opinion the composer’s most profound work, and one very difficult to carry off. Like Bruckner, it is always starting and stopping, and performers can easily be fooled into playing it for big screechy chords and bombast, as though it were Czech Copland! Conductors as renowned as Kubelík and Mackerras have gotten stuck making the piece excessively static and crude, with too many ritards. But there is another, almost Brahmsian way to make the music flow. Karel An?erl’s recording from the late 1960s represents this approach and conveys a remarkable forward movement, giving the listener a real sense of the piece’s cohesion. Listeners should investigate the various An?erl collections that include it. To his credit once again, Rozhdestvensky downplays the bombast. He does not move as quickly as An?erl, but the piece has direction—and great beauty. The quiet organ music at the beginning is as realistic as setting foot in church. And the build towards the end is wonderfully warm and full, with the organ, brass, and timpani combination benefitting from the Albert Hall acoustic. The audience goes crazy with applause, much deserved. It has been my good fortune to hear this piece live several times, and I can aver that concertgoers are always astonished that the music has such quality.
This CD is a fine tribute to Rozhdestvensky, now in his mid-80s. We probably won’t be hearing too much more from him. So it is all to the good that the liner notes explore in some detail the conductor’s personal way of interacting with and rehearsing orchestras. It is worth reading.
FANFARE: Steven Kruger
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 5 in E minor, Op. 64 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Written: 1888; Russia
Date of Recording: 09/29/1978
Venue: Flanders Festival, St Rumbold's Cathedra
Length: 44 Minutes 6 Secs.
Taras Bulba by Leos Janácek
Bela Dekany (Violin)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1915-1918; Brno, Czech Republic
Date of Recording: 08/25/1981
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London
Length: 23 Minutes 9 Secs.
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