Notes and Editorial Reviews
Tchaikovsky's stirring and melodious Symphony No. 7, is actually a reconstruction by Sergei Bogatyryev of a symphony Tchaikovsky began before the Symphony No. 6, the Pathétique. After abandoning the score, Tchaikovsky used the music as the basis for several works, including the unfinished Piano Concerto No. 3. Lilya Zilberstein is the soloist.
R E V I E W:
Symphony No. 7 in E?. Piano Concerto No. 3 in E?,
class="ARIAL12"> Dmitri Kitaenko, cond; Lilya Zilberstein (pn); Cologne Gürzenich O
OEHMS 672 (SACD: 56:42)
Not to be outdone by rivals Mikhail Pletnev, Christoph Poppen, and Vladimir Jurowski in the recent four-way Tchaikovsky symphony competition, Dmitri Kitaenko, who has run the race neck-and-neck with Pletnev, has now gone Pletnev—indeed, the others, as well—two better in recording two of Tchaikovsky’s “iffy” scores which have long remained outside the composer’s established canon of work.
One of the two is legitimate, in that it’s an authentic piece from the hand of the composer himself, though he didn’t live to see it published, and that would be the questionably named Piano Concerto No. 3. The other work, the Symphony No. 7, is a purely fictional composition, concocted by Russian composer Sergei Bogatyrev in the 1950s from sketches Tchaikovsky had made of a planned symphony he abandoned before starting work on the “Pathétique.” If Bogatyrev’s reconstruction received any number at all, it should have been the Symphony No. 5-1/2.
There is, however, a strong kinship between these two works, which makes pairing them on the same CD eminently sensible. Not long before he died in November 1893, Tchaikovsky dusted off the sketches he’d made for the ditched symphony and reworked them into the piece that was posthumously published as the Piano Concerto No. 3, a misleading title, since it’s a one-movement
in the manner of Mendelssohn’s similarly-titled opus.
As for the symphony, readers of a certain age are sure to recall the first recording of the piece from a 1962 performance by Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra, issued on a Columbia Masterworks LP, which rather quickly disappeared from the catalog. It has, however, since been transferred to CD and coupled with Leonard Rose’s performance of the composer’s
While no surreptitious motive for fathering this illegitimate child is attributed to Bogatyrev—no doubt, his intentions were honorable—his offspring has not fared well in the music world. At present, ArkivMusic lists only three other recordings of the piece besides this one: the above-mentioned Ormandy, a 1987 Musical Concepts performance by Sergei Skripa and the USSR Cinematographic Orchestra, and a Chandos CD with Neeme Järvi and the London Philharmonic, which couples the symphony, as here, with the Piano Concerto No. 3, performed by Geoffrey Tozer. I’m in possession of that disc, so I can offer a comparison between it and this new one, but before I do, let me just add one thought as to why I believe Bogatyrev’s speculative re-creation is not just neglected but intentionally shunned.
It’s really not a bad piece of music, but I think that numbering it Symphony No. 7, which gives the impression that it’s a later work than the “Pathétique,” was a fatal mistake. So much Romantic mystique and a sense of tragic finality surround Tchaikovsky’s last symphony—much of it psychological projection—that it would shatter our perception of reality to discover that the “Pathétique” was really not the end after all, which, technically, in fact, it wasn’t; read below to discover why. If only Bogatyrev’s score had been published with a different title—like Symphony No. 5-1/2, as suggested above, or simply Symphony in E? Major, op. posth.—his effort might have attracted more attention; but I’m convinced it was the “No. 7” that did it in.
The fate of the so-designated Piano Concerto No. 3 has been quite different. First, it’s an authentic work by Tchaikovsky, even if it wasn’t published in his lifetime; and second, there’s no mystique surrounding it, though perhaps there should be, because it, and not the “Pathétique,” is, in fact, the real end, and it does shatter our Romanticized notion of the depressed, despairing composer who may have intentionally infected himself with cholera to end his own life.
Tchaikovsky put his signature to the “Pathétique” in August 1893, though the work wasn’t performed until October 28, just nine days before he died. But it was between May and October of that year that the composer worked on the one-movement
that was published a year later as the Piano Concerto No. 3. That makes it, and not the “Pathétique” Tchaikovsky’s last work, and in its buoyant, optimistic mood, it belies our impression of a composer so disconsolate that he didn’t want to go on living. But the stories we’re told as kids—like the one that Schubert died before he could finish his “Unfinished” Symphony—die hard. Tchaikovsky’s “Pathétique” comports with our
reality of a despondent man’s final utterance, and it’s not likely that the Piano Concerto No. 3 is going to change that.
Be that as it may, the concerto has received considerably more attention on disc than has Bogatyrev’s suppositional symphony. At present, nearly 30 recordings of the concerto are listed, and of them, in addition to the above-cited Tozer and now this new Zilberstein, I’m also familiar with the Peter Donohoe, Viktoria Postnikova, and Stephen Hough (from Volume 50 of Hyperion’s
Romantic Piano Concerto
series). The Tozer, however, as noted above, is the only other one coupled with the Bogatyrev’s Tchaikovsky symphony re-creation, making it an exact duplicate of this new Oehms release. So that’s the one I’m using as the basis for this comparison.
Timings are so close in both the symphony and the concerto as to be a non-decisive factor, but here they are anyway just for the record:
Symphony No. 7
Piano Concerto No. 3
32:4, I was blown away by a recording of Beethoven’s “Appassionata” Sonata by Lilya Zilberstein, a pianist I likened to the high-powered, always-on-edge, mercurial Martha Argerich, an artist Zilberstein has teamed up with before. Tozer is no reluctant virtuoso in Tchaikovsky’s dazzling score, but he doesn’t match Zilberstein’s electrifying technical wizardry. Passages of delicate filigree dance off her keyboard with a magical, gnome-like touch, while in the big climaxes and passages demanding lots of muscle, Zilberstein is a real powerhouse. Tozer is no shrinking violet, but his reading of the piece is not as colorful or imaginative as Zilberstein’s. So, for the concerto, my vote goes to this new Zilberstein and Kitaenko version.
For the symphony, as far as interpretive approach goes, I don’t hear much difference, really, between Järvi and Kitaenko, though I’d be ever so slightly inclined to give the edge to Kitaenko for a performance that sounds a bit more rooted in the music’s Russian idioms. As to matters of execution, I’d have to give a very slight edge to Järvi’s London Philharmonic over Kitaenko’s Cologne Gürzenich Orchestra, the former having a bit more weight and lushness in the strings. So, those two factors balance each other out.
Where the new recording wins hands down is in its magnificent multi-channel surround sound. Oehms’s decision to produce its Tchaikovsky symphony cycle with Kitaenko in SACD, which it didn’t do for its parallel cycle with Christoph Poppen, was one of the reasons I thought Kitaenko’s cycle ran a neck-and-neck race with Pletnev’s on PentaTone. And here, Kitaenko and Oehms repeat that success, tying up their Tchaikovsky survey—there’s also an excellent Manfred from these same forces—with these loose ends. Very strongly recommended.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 7 in E flat major by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Cologne Gürzenich Orchestra
Written: 1892; Russia
Symphony No. 7 in E-Flat Major (completed by S. Bogatiryov): I. Allegro brillante
Symphony No. 7 in E-Flat Major (completed by S. Bogatiryov): II. Andante
Symphony No. 7 in E-Flat Major (completed by S. Bogatiryov): III. Scherzo: Vivace assai
Symphony No. 7 in E-Flat Major (completed by S. Bogatiryov): IV. Allegro maestoso
Piano Concerto No. 3 in E-Flat Major, Op. 75
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