Friday, September 28, 2007

Another No.4

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.

Every listen has been different, and each time I hear the work performed, whether its by the Quad City Symphony or the Seattle Symphony or the St. Petersburg State Symphony.   

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Richard said...

We have numerous recordings of this piece as well--I especially love the way Szell tears through the finale--and we heard a rousing interpretation by Marin Alsop at Ravinia a few years ago. Do you have the Muti version? His Tchaikovsky cycle is on Brilliant now and is scary-cheap: $33 from Amazon for all the symphonies, including Manfred, plus a bunch of good filler.

We're hearing it again on Jan. 12 with Myung-Whun Chung and the CSO. I can't wait!

Z. Carstensen said...

I tried to get the Muti set a few months back but had some problems i.e. I paid for it but never received it in the mail. Dejected, but determined to get a new cycle, I picked up an even cheaper set on Vox by Maurice Abravanel and the Utah Symphony. I think it cost me about $15.00 from Borders for all six symphonies and the various other orchestral pieces (Francesca, Manfred, Romeo and Juliet, etc.)

I have been surprised at how much I enjoy the set. The performances, at first, seemed thin. Over time, I have come to love the transparency in the music and the scrappy performances from the Utah Symphony. You can see (hear) everything.

I will get on getting that Muti set though.