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Tchaikovsky: Symphony No 4, Francesca Da Rimini / Svetlanov, State Academic Symphony Orchestra

Release Date: 08/12/2008 
Label:  Svetlanov Foundation   Catalog #: 74   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Conductor:  Yevgeny Svetlanov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Russian State Academic Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 6 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

TCHAIKOVSKY Francesca da Rimini. Symphony No. 4 Yevgeny Svetlanov, cond; Russian St Academic SO SVETLANOV FOUNDATION 74, analog (65:45)

TCHAIKOVSKY Hamlet. Symphony No. 5 Yevgeny Svetlanov, cond; Russian St Academic SO Read more href="http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?album_id=201830">SVETLANOV FOUNDATION 75, analog (64:19)

Talk about coincidence. In the last issue, I negatively reviewed Walter Friedman’s recording of the Tchaikovsky Fourth using Svetlanov (and Bernstein and Rodzinski) as better examples of how this symphony should be conducted, and now I’m lucky enough to re-hear Svetlanov’s amazing 1967 recording—which I hadn’t heard in more than 30 years, but still remembered—on CD. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. Most of us who were lucky enough to buy Svetlanov’s recordings when they were first issued in the late 1960s, via a strange arrangement that Angel had with the Soviet state-run label Melodiya, were simply blown away by his stunning musicianship, control, phrasing, and from-the-gut interpretative fire. In this era of Gergiev, I feel that many listeners tend to forget just how good Svetlanov and his more cosmopolitan countryman Igor Markevitch were in their time. These CDs are a great reminder.

Their one drawback is the sound. Apparently taken straight from the original LP masters, they sound exactly as they did on LP, which is perhaps the best they could get out of them, but compared to digital they’re a bit hard-edged and a little shallow in orchestral tone. No matter. Svetlanov’s interpretations have it all: tuning-fork precision of pitch, sharp attacks, emotional but non-sentimental phrasing, and that sense of “completeness” in which one can feel the inevitability of the music’s progression. The only thing his orchestra lacked was a truly sensuous tone; in that respect, it was a quintessential Russian orchestra of its time. (And, one should point out, there is a name change here. On LPs, it was the USSR State Symphony Orchestra.)

However one may wish that the Svetlanov Foundation had produced 24-bit remastering of these remarkable performances, they are keepers. In his hands, even the rather drawn-out Francesca da Rimini, which reuses material from other Tchaikovsky works, emerges as a whole and a rather satisfying work. His performance of the Fifth Symphony, because of the sound, lacks some of the shimmering, silvery quality that Rudolf Kempe brought to it (the 1964 live performance with the London Symphony), yet even though the timings are considerably slower in the first movement, it doesn’t feel slower except for the lyrical melody that begins at the six-minute mark, where Svetlanov uncharacteristically slows it down while Kempe, like Markevitch (whose recording is also superb), maintains a steadier tempo. The second movement of the Fifth, I felt, was really too slow, yet still valid in context. The last movement builds so beautifully and carefully towards its searing climax that it will leave you breathless.

These are parts of a project to reissue all of Svetlanov’s recordings. In addition to the Tchaikovsky series, which is not yet complete (his Manfred, which I’ve never heard but wish to, has not yet joined the numbered symphonies), these include all 40 symphonies of Nicolai Myaskovsky (27 are already available) and the 10 Mahler symphonies, a cycle that when issued may give everyone else’s some stiff competition. (I’ve not heard them, but based on what I already know of Svetlanov’s aesthetics expect them to be nothing less than intense.) This man was a giant of conducting. It’s about time his legacy came forth to prove it.

One final note. On the back of the jewel case insert, it directs the interested to the Web site www.svetlanov.ru, but this appears still to be under construction. Entering that address brings up a blank white screen with “SVETLANOV.RU” in the top left corner. Better to explore his story and art at www.svetlanov-evgeny.com.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 4 in F minor, Op. 36 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Conductor:  Yevgeny Svetlanov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Russian State Academic Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1877-1878; Russia 
Length: 39 Minutes 12 Secs. 
Francesca da Rimini, Op. 32 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Conductor:  Yevgeny Svetlanov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Russian State Academic Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1876; Russia 
Length: 25 Minutes 50 Secs. 

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