Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 4.
Christoph Eschenbach (pn),
cond; The Philadelphia O
ONDINE 1104 (Hybrid multichannel SACD: 68:24)
This performance of one of the most recorded symphonies in the repertoire will provide fodder for both the foes and friends of Eschenbach’s unique music-making style. The foes will decry his tempo fine-tuning and
overly expansive approach. The friends will cite exactly those same qualities as the strengths of this performance. I should say at once that I am amongst the friends, as are my two
colleagues in the Philadelphia area, Andrew Quint and Arthur Lintgen, both of whom have written passionately on the subject in these pages and elsewhere. Bernard Jacobson, formerly of both Philadelphia and
, has gone so far as to suggest that one of the reasons so many orchestra members do not like Eschenbach is that his penchant for conducting for the moment deprives them of a sense of safety. I quote from his MusicWeb International posting: “In my view, it is precisely this element of unpredictability that has produced great performances through the years, under such conductors as that supreme cliff-hanger Wilhelm Furtwängler.”
This is not to imply that there is anything eccentric about this Tchaikovsky-playing. The sound is big and gorgeous, and remarkably like what one hears at about mid-orchestra seating in Verizon Hall, where this was recorded in concert. Eschenbach is never afraid of giving his listeners a look under the hood; there is a lucidity here that is remarkable, reminiscent of the similarly daring way that Riccardo Muti conducted this music when he was in Philadelphia. By contrast, the Ormandy sound was much thicker, perhaps plusher, but musically less interesting. In other respects, Muti and Eschenbach are quite different. Muti delivered the music with a thrilling sense of urgency, where Eschenbach is more interested in pulling back enough to let the intrinsic shape of the symphony speak for itself. And if his rhythmic inflections, the pulse as he calls it, puts the musicians on a sort of tightrope, it does not show. The instrumental playing is consistently spectacular, if never showy. In terms of the actual performance, the beautiful recorded sound, and the warmth of the interpretation, this recording belongs on the short list of the many versions available, including those of Mravinsky, Muti, and a personal favorite, Beecham.
Eschenbach’s piano-playing has always been characterized by precision and intelligence, as well as glistening tonality. Apparently he has still been practicing even as conducting has come to dominate his professional activities, as this completion of the cycle
(it really should be called “the months”) makes it among the finest in the catalog, although you do have to buy two CDs to have all 12 months.
FANFARE: Peter Burwasser
This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players. Read less
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 4 in F minor, Op. 36 by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Written: 1877-1878; Russia
Les saisons, Op. 37b by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Christoph Eschenbach (Piano)
Notes: Composition written: Russia (1875 - 1876).
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