Friday, 23 February 2018

Teodor Currentzis and Tchaikovsky's Pathétique

I grew up with Tchaikovsky's Pathétique symphony played by Toscanini (NBC Orchestra), Cantelli (Philharmonia) and Furtwängler (Berlin Philharmonic) later followed by Mravinsky (Leningrad Orchestra) and Mikhael Pletnev (Russian National Orchestra). I still have all of these, plus a few others, so I really did not need yet another Pathétique. However, it is one of my favourite orchestral works, so I launched out and bought yet another version: Teodor Currentzis and the MusicAeterna orchestra.

Teodor Currentzis (half Greek, half Russian) is a highly interventionist conductor. The orchestra (from Perm in Siberia) confirms my often stated belief that a “second tier” orchestra playing repertoire familiar to it will often play its heart out, whereas a world-famous orchestra under a guest conductor will often go through the motions. Russian orchestras in core Russian repertoire, like German or Austrian orchestras in the core German repertoire, French orchestras in the core French repertoire, or English orchestras in the core English repertoire, almost always add that extra 10% of commitment and authenticity.

This is a Pathétique with a difference; somewhat wild, with exaggerated pauses and wide dynamics. I enjoyed it (as is often the case when one listens to musicians playing their hearts out in repertoire they know and love). However, Tchaikovsky's Pathétique is too good a symphony to be listened to too often in a distorted performance. The music of composers such as Tchaikovsky, Elgar, Mahler and Rachmaninov is already so full of Angst and insecurity that it really does not need additional dollops. I felt the same way about Nemanja Radulovic's performance of Tchaikovsky's violin concerto, despite the magnificent violin playing. For the Pathétique, maybe I should buy the recording by Vasily Petrenko; but that is on a double CD with the third and fourth symphonies that I do not want. Till then, it's back to the ancient Mravinsky recordings, plus the more recent Pletnev or Valery Gergiev.

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