Thinking Man's Tchaikovsky: Three Recordings that Avoid the Gushy Stereotype

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Concert halls don’t suffer from any lack of Tchaikovsky these days. Classical music’s most hyper-emotive Romantic ranks just behind Beethoven, Mozart and Brahms on a list of the most-performed composers by American orchestras, according to a 2008-09 survey.

This year, the Russian composer has received an extra shot of pop culture adrenaline thanks to the film “Black Swan,” which incorporated Swan Lake into its lurid tale of a demented ballerina. And before we know it, amphitheaters across the country will be rocking to the sounds of the 1812 Overture and fireworks as Americans celebrate July Fourth. Which isn't always a bad thing. But there are some artists taking a more creative, even brainy approach to the composer. Here are three standouts this spring.

Tchaikovsky And Shakespeare: Hamlet, The Tempest, Romeo and Juliet
Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
Available at Arkivmusic.com

Hot Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel has been busy recording much of the standard repertoire as part of his Deutsche Grammophon contract but he has shown a particular affinity with Tchaikovsky. This album of Shakespeare-inspired works contains two comparative rarities, both worthwhile.

The Tempest doesn’t have a sweeping theme like Romeo & Juliet and its structure is fairly simple, yet it abounds in the brilliant orchestration and ominous atmospheres one might normally find in Berlioz. Slightly better known is the Hamlet Overture-Fantasy, which echoes the Danish prince's dark moods and tragic destiny. For the perennially crowd-pleasing Romeo and Juliet, Dudamel and his charges in the Simon Bolivar Symphony tamp down on the schmaltz for which it has been associated. Instead, the focus turns to the battling strings of the middle section and the earthy yet curiously subdued conclusion.

 

Schoenberg: Variations for Orchestra Op. 31. Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6
West-Eastern Divan Orchestra; Daniel Barenboim, conductor
Pre-Order at Arkivmusic.com
(available 6/7)

We know what you're thinking: another Tchaikovsky Sixth? But this new recording has its own raison d'être. The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra is a unique collaboration between Arabs and Jews, Israelis and Palestinians, founded in 1999 by Daniel Barenboim (as the conductor indicated this week in a column for the Jerusalem Post, it remains unable to perform in many of the countries which are represented in it). Back-story aside, the group’s playing is uniformly excellent in the Pathetique, with rich-toned strings and white-hot brass. Schoenberg’s Variations for Orchestra couldn't be more dissimilar stylistically, with its modernist use of the 12-tone method. Still, when presented beside the Tchaikovsky, one hears moments of wistfulness and even romantic yearning.

 

Tchaikovsky, Kissine Piano Trios
Gidon Kremer (violin), Giedr Dirvanauskait (cello), Khatia Buniatishvili (piano)
Pre-order at Arkivmusic.com
(available 6/7)

Two ends of the Russian chamber music tradition are placed side-by-side on this quietly compelling ECM release. It is all too easy for the Tchaikovsky Piano Trio to get bogged down in sentiment and density of texture, but the Gidon Kremer's ensemble finds a way of keeping the fabric transparent and airy while adding a kind of raw authenticity. Victor Kissine's 2009 Zerkalo ("The Mirror") was written for these players in 2009 and is unabashedly modern, full of ominous piano patterns and ghostly, fragmented violin and cello lines. Kremer’s searing violin and Buniatishvili’s rippling piano lines to seem to echo Tchaikovsky’s opening movement gestures from over 125 years earlier.

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Comments [3]

Kenneth Bennett Lane from BOONTON, NJ

There is SO much to be thankful for when one can enlist major talents to lend their time, and talent to projects which in today's market [where the young want to download FREE] do not recompense financially. Wagnerians and Shakespeareans are dedicated artists who may have to leave our shores to make the most of their training and talent.

May. 25 2011 06:43 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane from BOONTON, NJ

How appropriate to term these recordings as cerebral, daunting and internalized rather than sucrose or tormented or painfully melancholy. These are all virtuosi either as instrumentalists or maestri and the music is rewarding to all concerned. Daniel Barenboim is an excellent pianist, but here as conductor his contribution is even greater as he has managed to form an orchestra of Jewish and Palestinian members who play so very well together and who realize that teamwork brings its own reward. Kudos as well to Maestro Gustavo Dudamel for his exciting way with drawing forth the essence of every selection he touches.
Violinist Gideon Kremer and pianist Khatia Buniatishvili are definitley "in the spirit" with the requisite technical prowess to make their offering something special.

May. 23 2011 04:50 PM

http://www.christianlouboutinbestonline.com/

May. 23 2011 10:48 AM

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