As I was driving to the dentist the other day, I got to wondering about Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony. This isn't unusual, as days, sometimes weeks before a concert, I obsess about what I am going to hear. In the present case, the upcoming Seattle Symphony concert provided me with the subject matter for my recent pondering.
Early on, Tchaikovsky's fourth was a favorite. After I heard the finale on one of those best-of-classical-music-compilations, I knew I needed to hear this work in its entirety. I spent a fair amount of time just trying to track down a reasonable copy in Ames, IA's sparse record stores.
When I finally found a copy, a marginal Excelsior Classics (one of those labels that populated the bargain bins of the 1990's) recording, it provided plenty of enjoyment for the duration of my college years. It was good enough for my freshman ears.
Sometime, probably ten years or so ago, my old, well worn, Excelsior recording seemed too limiting. The legendary Mravinsky recording of the No.4-6, was an obvious choice to get. On first listen, this white-hot recording changed my view of the piece. For the first time, I felt the music and experienced, albeit posthumously and vicariously, this unsettled period in Tchaikovsky's life. Married, divorced, gay, depressed, and not very good at killing himself, Tchaikovsky's life was a mess. Perfect material for a symphony that spans the emotional spectrum.
Since truly experiencing the fourth with that first listen of Mravinsky's DG recording, I have added 11 additional recordings of the work to my cd collection. The recordings span the history of recorded classical music: Bernstein, Abravanel, Szell, Gergiev, Karajan, etc. All of them good in their own way, all of them fleshing out the complexities and emotion of Tchaikovsky the person, and each providing a different musical experience.
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