Notes and Editorial Reviews
*** This title is a reissue of a Japanese release with liner notes in Japanese. ***
TCHAIKOVSKY Symphonies: No. 1 in g, “Winter Dreams”; No. 2 in c, “Little Russian”; No. 3 in D • Eugene Ormandy; Philadelphia O; • RCA-ArkivMusic 38288 (2 CDs: 128:09)
Like the Manfred Symphony, these are Ormandy’s first and only recordings of Tchaikovsky’s first three symphonies. RCA probably wanted a complete cycle—Nos. 4–6 were already in the can—and Ormandy obliged. In general, Ormandy’s stereo Columbia recordings of the last three symphonies strike me as ideal (I don’t yet know his RCA versions), but I like a lighter touch for the early ones. Maazel/Vienna Philharmonic on Decca and Markevitch/London Symphony on Philips
are the standard versions, with a special place for Beecham’s spirited 1947 account of the Third and Giulini’s infectious Second with the Philharmonia on EMI. For “Winter Dreams,” especially in the first two movements, lighter would be better; the tempo marking of the second movement is Adagio cantabile ma non tanto; Ormandy ignores the ma non tanto and plays the movement in 11:35, compared to Maazel’s 10:00. On the other hand, the high point of the movement—the statement of the main theme fortissimo by the horns—is underplayed. Ormandy and Tchaikovsky are more in synch in the fourth movement, but it’s not enough compensation for the heavy treatment of the first two.
The Second Symphony is a problem piece for me; much as I love Tchaikovsky, I find it repetitious and tedious in all but the most exciting performances. Here Ormandy is too heavy in the first movement and the introduction of the last; the inner movements seem to work better, and the Finale is impressive once it gets going.
The Third, generally but misleadingly referred to as the “Polish” Symphony because its last movement is labeled Tempo di polacca, has always been a secret vice of mine; I think this is probably due to my having become acquainted with the work through Beecham’s exciting yet affectionate recording. To my ear, Ormandy falls short here. The first movement is well played, but lacking the bounce that Beecham brings to its step; the second and third movements drag. There is some nice woodwind-playing in the Scherzo, but oboist de Lancie, who was just over two years short of retiring when this recording was made in 1974, actually slurs a series of scale passages that are specifically written as staccato! The Finale sounds more aggressive than festive.
As with many of Ormandy’s late recordings, these interpretations will be of interest to fans of the extraordinary Philadelphia Orchestra—in the last years that it had what was simply called “the Philadelphia sound”—or of Ormandy, and to Tchaikovsky specialists. They may not be the last word, but, gee, it’s good to have them!
FANFARE: Richard A. Kaplan
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