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Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 1 in g,
Suite No. 4,
Samuel Friedmann, cond; Nizhny Novgorod PO
ARTE NOVA 304830 (61:33)
Just under 300 miles southeast of Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod is no rural, backwater Russian village. Depending on which source is the more reliable, Nizhny (for short) is Russia’s third or fourth largest city, ranking just after Moscow, St. Petersburg, and either before or after Novosibirsk.
With five concert halls, important museums, and numerous sites of historical significance, it is the cultural center, as well as the economic engine, of the Volga region. It should come as no surprise then that the city showcases an exceptionally fine orchestra in the body of the Nizhny Novgorod Philharmonic.
The recording at hand, like most now reaching these shores from this label, is not new. It was made in 1995 in the Kremlin of Nizhny Novgorod’s Concert Hall. A native of Kharkov, Samuel Friedmann graduated from the Conservatory there as a violinist, and then as a conductor from the Leningrad Conservatory. In 1973 he emigrated to Israel, took over the post of music director and chief conductor of the Haifa Symphony, and has since embarked on an international career that has taken him throughout Europe and the U.S.
When Tchaikovsky set out to write his First Symphony in 1866, he was 26 years old; but he was so self-critical and insecure that he continued to tinker with the score on and off for the next 8 years, not allowing it to be published until 1874. On this point, I believe the booklet note by Stephanie Schroedter misstates the facts, claiming that the composer continued making revisions as late as 1883. My own fact checking indicates that the first completed version of the symphony (1866) was introduced to a Moscow audience in 1868 by its dedicatee, Anton Rubinstein. The 1883 date to which Schroedter refers is undoubtedly the Moscow performance of the published 1874 version given by conductor Max Erdmannsdörfer. Other than corrections made to poorly copied parts, the 1874 revisions, which were quite extensive, remain as the final version of the symphony as we know it today.
“Winter Daydreams” has long been a favorite Tchaikovsky work, and one that in musical content and formal construction is actually superior to his Second (“Little Russian”) and Third (“Polish”) symphonies, an opinion supported by the fact that he devoted so much time and effort to it, and even returned to it several years later with the intent of fixing what he thought were its weaknesses. He would not write another symphony to surpass the First until the Fourth in 1877.
My longtime favorite—and considered a classic—recording of this symphony has been Michael Tilson Thomas’s 1970 performance with the Boston Symphony on Deutsche Grammophon. It has now been transferred to CD, but I used to have the original LP, which I recall having a beautiful silvery front jacket picture. Fortunately, performances are not judged by their cover art; for if they were, this one might send a shiver up your spine. It’s a hellish scene of flocking birds reminiscent of something from an Alfred Hitchcock movie inspired by Hieronymus Bosch. What in the minds of those responsible this has to do with Tchaikovsky or “Winter Daydreams” is subject matter for a paper to be presented at a seminar of psychiatrists.
Narrowly escaping having my eyes pecked out and my flesh ripped from its sinews, I can report that Friedmann and the Nizhny Novgorod Philharmonic give a wonderfully atmospheric performance of the symphony. The opening scene, “Daydreams on a Wintry Road,” conjures an icy landscape of crystalline purity and beauty. “Oh Land of Gloom, oh Land of Mist” evokes a faraway time and place, its plaintive chant-like melody sounding like a Russian folk song. Only the first two movements bear descriptive titles. The Scherzo begins in a balletic, playful manner. But as it progresses, its bits and pieces coalesce into a weightier, more ominous sounding movement. It is interrupted by one of those graceful, if slightly wistful, Tchaikovsky waltzes that form the trio section. On its return, the opening material takes on an even more foreboding character. The Finale begins with an almost Brahms-like slow, mysterious introduction, again based on what sounds like a Russian folk song. The long winter is finally dispelled by the bright sunshine of the triumphant
. I have no hesitation in recommending this performance. It may lack the element of extra sparkle that Tilson Thomas brought to the score, but in every other respect, it is outstanding, and at a bargain price to boot.
Of Tchaikovsky’s four orchestral suites, the Fourth, titled “Mozartiana,” has always been the most popular. The idea of a work based on pieces by Mozart probably first occurred to Tchaikovsky in 1884 while he was working on a translation of
The Marriage of Figaro
. It wasn’t until three years later, though, that the four-movement suite finally materialized. The first and second movements are based on seldom-played Mozart piano pieces, while the third movement, titled “Prayer,” is an arrangement of Mozart’s famous
Ave verum corpus
, K 618. The fourth and final movement is an elaborate set of variations based on the popular tune to
Unser dummer Pöbel meint
, K 455.
A most enjoyable disc—one that makes a strong case for this very fine Russian orchestra and conductor.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins Read less
Works on This Recording
Average Customer Review: ( 3 Customer Reviews )
Early Tchaikovsky symphony has much to offer January 6, 2015
By F. Bayerl (Ottawa, ON) See All My Reviews
"Tchaikovsky's First Symphony contains music of depth and charm and is, in my opinion, in many respects superior to his Second and Third in quality of inspiration and materials. While somewhat episodic, the first movement has original-sounding melodic material and is highly atmospheric, and the second is based on a gorgeous folk-like theme. The scherzo is imaginatively orchestrated and has a beautiful waltz for a trio that rivals the composer's best later efforts in this genre. The finale is thoroughly characteristic of the composer's style with all that implies in terms of melodic beauty, but also some excessive repetition and a climax that builds and builds in typical fashion--effective but perhaps overdone. The performance, by an orchestra and conductor previously unknown to me, is very satisfactory."
These are beautiful Tchaikovsky recordings--at an October 2, 2013
By Moshe M. (Flushing, NY) See All My Reviews
"I strongly disagree with the negative customer review here. My copy of this CD played fine the first time I tried, so that person should get a replacement because there's nothing inherently wrong with Arte Nova CDs. I have tons of them and they all work fine. As for the recordings, these are among the best performances of these works out there. The "Winter Daydreams" is played beautifully, and with lots of color and spot-on tempos. It's not as good as Tilson Thomas but it's better than Markevitch and Pletnev. The "Mozartiana" Suite might be the most compelling account I have ever heard. In the Suites 1-3, Markevitch is second to none. But this one, No. 4, is better yet as conducted by Friedmann and his regional Russian orchestra. There's more sparkle, more wit, more fun in this recording. The sound quality is not demonstration-quality but it's quite good for a 20th century (1995) recording made in Russia. I would highly recommend this CD at full price. At this bargain price, it is nothing short of a steal."
Bargain ? maybe not August 17, 2013
By Mary Lynn H. (San Antonio, TX) See All My Reviews
"I got this when Arkiv was having a sale of the Arte Nova CDs and well it wasn't a good experience. First, the darn thing didn't want to play but finally it got going and it sounded bad. It may just be the disk. What I heard of the symphony was well played but I couldn't get past what seemed to be a bad recording and bad disk. No more Arte Novas for me."