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Tschaikowsky: Symphonie Nr. 4; Capriccio Italien

Tchaikovsky / Guerzenich-orchester Koeln
Release Date: 11/19/2013 
Label:  Oehms   Catalog #: 671   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Conductor:  Dmitri Kitayenko
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne Gürzenich Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Mixed 
Length: 1 Hours 2 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 4. Capriccio Italien Dmitri Kitaenko, cond; Gürzenich O OEHMS 671 (SACD: 62:12)

With this release, Dmitri Kitaenko completes his Tchaikovsky symphony survey with Cologne’s Gürzenich Orchestra, finally nudging me to get off the fence I’ve been straddling between Kitaenko’s cycle and Mikhail Pletnev’s with the Russian National Orchestra on PentaTone.

With regard to the two other cycles I’ve been following, Read more Vladimir Jurowski’s with the London Philharmonic on the orchestra’s house label, LPO, as far as I know, is not yet complete, with the Nos. 2 and 3 still to come; Christoph Poppen’s with the Southwest German Radio Orchestra, is complete and, like Kitaenko’s, is also on Oehms but not in SACD. Poppen’s has been the one I’ve liked the least, finding his performances uneven and, in some cases, a bit underplayed or not strongly characterized.

That has not been a criticism one could lodge against Pletnev’s readings, which, if anything, have leaned towards the overly dramatic. Kitaenko’s readings have been a bit lower in voltage, though by no means lacking in the amps to power the big climaxes, and consistently satisfying, if a little less exciting.

Having listened carefully to Kitaenko’s new Fourth, and gone back and relistened to the rest of his cycle, as well as to Pletnev’s, I think I’m ready to deliver my conclusion. Unfortunately, it’s a conclusion that leaves me still sitting on same fence I was already on, for I like them both well enough to not be able to come down in favor of one over the other.

Emotional temperateness or coolness is not an attribute I tend to associate with Tchaikovsky’s turbulent Fourth Symphony, and while Kitaenko’s reading marshals plenty of urgency, thrust, and dynamic force where called for, it’s amazing to me how much of it lilts with lyrical, balletic gracefulness, a reminder perhaps that the score’s composition in 1877 overlaps Tchaikovsky’s work on Swan Lake.

This may be the best installment in Kitaenko’s entire cycle, and the earlier ones were very, very good. But here the Gürzenich Orchestra plays for the conductor in a way I’ve not heard before. The ensemble’s players sound absolutely inspired, rising to shattering brass and timpani climaxes, then falling back to caress the delicate tendrils of Tchaikovsky’s wispy flute and clarinet filaments. This is extraordinary playing, and Oehms’s SACD recording penetrates deep into the orchestra to hear and convey it all.

In a duel of the Fourths, I’d pick Kitaenko’s over Pletnev’s, whose direction in this particular symphony strikes me as somewhat wayward, as if Pletnev is a bit ill at ease with the music and not entirely certain what to make of it. So, he falls back on what he’s best at, which is to whip up the frenzy, even when it may not be warranted. Kitaenko is more measured throughout, not just in terms of tempos but in temperament. Just look at the differences in timings—Pletnev: 17:45, 8:53, 5:22, and 8:39; vs. Kitaenko: 19:20, 10: 26, 6:04, and 9:25. That adds up to a quite significant difference of 40:39 vs. 45:15. But as I said, it’s not just the relative differences in tempo; Kitaenko’s approach to the score trips more lightly through Tchaikovsky’s softer, terpsichorean passages. Listen, for example, to the Mendelssohnian Scherzo, and not just to the pizzicato pixies but to the leprechauns’ little heads bobbling up and down in perfect step to the toy brass march. What a delight!

Of course, one symphony does not an entire cycle make, and I still remain very impressed by Pletnev’s survey. Both conductors have great orchestras at their disposal, and both cycles can boast fantastic SACD recordings. A possible determining factor for some may be each cycle’s respective couplings, neither of which, in my opinion, is ideal. On the current Kitaenko Fourth, we get a Capriccio Italien done to a perfect al dente finish. But Kitaneko’s other pairings offer some unusual, if not always entirely fitting fillers—excerpts from Sleeping Beauty , the operas Snow Maiden and Queen of Spades , a Rococo Variations , and in one case, accompanying the Sixth Symphony, nothing. Pletnev’s choices, at least for the first three symphonies, are also unusual, and a bit ungenerous, but do offer the opportunity to hear the revised first movement of the Second Symphony, and at least two works intact, Marche slave and the Festival Coronation March . For the last three symphonies, Pletnev turns to more commonly paired works, Romeo and Juliet, Francesca da Rimini , and Capriccio Italien.

So, if you can afford it, I’d urge you to acquire both Pletnev and Kitaenko. For the most recent, up-to-date recordings of Tchaikovsky’s symphonies, you won’t go wrong with either of these cycles, and I’d venture that among the most recent versions, you won’t better them.

This does not mean, of course, that iconic performances by Markevitch and Mravinsky, as well as select versions of the individual symphonies by Karajan, Abbado, Daniele Gatti, Muti, Tilson Thomas, and half-a-dozen others are to be dismissed. Tchaikovsky’s symphonies have been very well served on disc, and Dmitri Kitaenko is just among the latest to add to the abundance. Strongly recommended.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 4 in F minor, Op. 36 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Conductor:  Dmitri Kitayenko
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne Gürzenich Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1877-1878; Russia 
Date of Recording: 11/2010/12/2011 
Venue:  Studio Stolberger Straße, Cologne 
Length: 45 Minutes 26 Secs. 
Capriccio italien, Op. 45 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Conductor:  Dmitri Kitayenko
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1880; Russia 
Date of Recording: 11/2010/12/2011 
Venue:  Studio Stolberger Straße, Cologne 
Length: 16 Minutes 42 Secs. 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Without punch June 29, 2015 By George W. (New York, NY) See All My Reviews "This is one of the least exciting versions I have heard of this powerful symphony. And the main problem may be in the recording. The orchestra is distant, almost over a hill at times. I'm a bit of an audiophile with large planar speakers and a solid sub-woofer. But the bottom octave seems to be missing. The reference to Swan Lake in the review is apt - this could be danced to gently. But I want a symphony not a ballet." Report Abuse
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