Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 6,
A Midsummer Night’s Dream:
Sir Charles Mackerras, cond; Philharmonia O
SIGNUM 253 (57:57) Live: London 2/8/2009
This Royal Festival Hall concert from two years ago makes for a wonderful memento of the late, great, and much-missed Sir Charles Mackerras, doubly welcome in that he left no other recorded performance of
this symphony (or any Tchaikovsky symphony, to my knowledge). Ever the musician’s musician, he had a rare knack for consistently bringing out the best from any orchestra, and with one of the Philharmonia’s caliber, the results could be revelatory. On this occasion he clearly had the players on the (metaphorical) edge of their seats, and Tchaikovsky’s old warhorse emerges as formidably articulate, spontaneous, refined, and full of finely observed detail. Witness the ideal balance of gracefully sinuous shaping and slow controlled buildup of tension through the first movement’s main theme and balletic transition. The second theme is delicate and flexible; in its faster middle section (
, Rehearsal E – 8), there is a panache and vitality—to the woodwinds’ shaping of their rising and falling melody, and the violins’ exposed flourishes into Rehearsal E—that is really very special. The development packs a phenomenal punch, with electric concentration (hear the exciting, but not overdone, brass rasp he gets at Rehearsal K – 8 ff.—this is simply ideal, and leaves most of the competition sounding sluggish and flaccid by comparison). Similarly, the recapitulation’s climax over the long dominant pedal has a rare visceral impact; listen to his shaping of the timpani rolls at Rehearsal Q + 8 ff., with convulsive crescendo–diminuendos in place of Tchaikovsky’s notated unvaried
The Allegro con grazia is light-toned, airy, and songful, and the third movement’s scherzo-march supremely articulate, from the crisp brio of the opening to the final stages’ crushing juggernaut (the superb recording really packing a wallop here). The finale has both expressive spontaneity and long-breathed coherence, with an attention to detail—accents, dynamic inflections—that can be truly ear-opening (as in the dark transparency of the divided cellos and basses at the very end, with stabbing accents both more delicate and more viscerally immediate than usual—again, the best of both worlds). My impression is that this recording is truly live, as in completely unedited through any post-concert touching up. There is plenty of audience noise between movements, and applause has been retained (mercifully not breaking in too soon). This now joins Gatti/Royal Philharmonic (Harmonia Mundi) and Pappano/Santa Cecilia Orchestra (EMI) at the top of my list of best “Pathétiques” of the last decade.
The Mendelssohn overture goes with the crackling zest and character that anyone familiar with Mackerras’s period-instrument version with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (EMI, 1987) would expect. Suffice to say that he achieves a comparable textural transparency here, with the silkier sonorities of the Philharmonia. He does not overdo the
of the E-Minor fairies who, if perhaps a little more flesh-and-blood than some other conductors’, are also more strongly characterized. On the other hand the Rude Mechanicals are memorably pungent, again with outstanding definition from the brass and tympani.
Altogether exceptional, and strongest possible recommendation.
FANFARE: Boyd Pomeroy
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