Notes and Editorial Reviews
Right from the opening of the Fifth Symphony, with the phrases of its motto theme bound together to create long coherent sentences rather than appearing as isolated fragments, you know this performance will be special. And so it proves. Lovro von Matacic plays this music beautifully. The first movement allegro has the "animo" Tchaikovsky requests, and Matacic maintains the exposition's tension right through to the climax of the second subject. Indeed, the whole movement has an irresistible momentum from first note to last. The "Slavic" timbre of the horn solo in the slow movement might raise a few eyebrows, but I'm not complaining, particularly when those magnificent Czech winds blend and phrase with it so affectingly.
There's a moment in the finale that really sets the seal on this great performance. Right after the central appearance of the motto theme (its phrases broken by see-sawing scales in strings and winds), Matacic slams on the brakes for a passage in which winds toss the movement's second subject back and forth over busy string ostinatos, eventually bringing the music to a complete stop over chorale-like wind chords. In the first half of the last century this passage was often cut (a tradition dating back to the composer himself), but by drawing special attention to it and permitting the wind parts to be clearly heard, Matacic totally vindicates Tchaikovsky's original intentions and the episode's developmental logic. It's a brilliant piece of conducting--as is his treatment of the coda, wherein we realize that because of his consistency of phrasing and long range view of the whole work, this last triumphant processional was latent in the symphony's opening bars.
The Fifth Symphony was recorded in 1960, the Sixth in 1968 in slightly better sound. Both performances encompass the Czech Philharmonic's "golden age" under Ancerl, and this Sixth is every bit as fine as the Fifth. Matacic just knows how to shape this music. Listen to his convincing rubato in the first movement's yearning second subject: he bends phrases but never breaks them. He also sustains the tension over those long, falling transitional cadences that Tchaikovsky loves to write, so as not to dissipate the accumulated energy but rather discharge it along deeply carved musical channels. Matacic tears into the development with terrific ferocity, but the top-to-bottom clarity of the initial fugato impresses just as much (you can actually hear the imitations clearly in the basses, a very rare event indeed). No less amazing is the absolute equivalence of strings and winds in their rapid exchanges leading to the first big climax (and subsequently at the recapitulation), with the timpani's entrance a bar earlier than usual certainly intentional (if it were a mistake, the player would necessarily have gotten the rhythm wrong a couple of seconds later, but he's dead accurate).
Matacic takes the second movement's "waltz with a limp" at a nicely flowing tempo and moves the ensuing march swiftly but never frantically--and always with superb transparency of texture. The recording stints on bass drum here, but that's a minor shortcoming at best. The opening of the finale once again demonstrates Matacic's mastery of the shapely phrase. The music never simply lies there; it has direction, purpose, and momentum, even at a slow basic tempo. The movement rises to a magnificently despairing climax and then sinks down--via a perfectly-judged and thankfully audible stroke on the tam-tam--into total darkness. If you love Tchaikovsky, you will certainly want to own this carefully remastered, fabulously played and conducted, reasonably priced two-disc set.
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 5 in E minor, Op. 64 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Lovro von Matacic
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1888; Russia
Date of Recording: 1960
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