TCHAIKOVSKY: Francesca da Rimini, Op. 32. Serenade for Strings, Op. 48.
London Symphony Orch/Leopold Stokowski, cond.
PENTATONE SACD PTC 186 122 TT: 51 min.

TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74. "Pathétique." Serenade for Strings, Op. 48.
Royal Philharmonic Orch/Daniele Gatti, cond.

TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64. Excerpts from The Seasons, Op. 37b.
Philadelphia Orch/Christoph Eschenbach, cond/pianist

What a pleasure it is to have Leopold Stokowski's 1974 Tchaikovsky recordings on SACD! This is the Maestro's third recording of Francesca; the first was made in 1947 with the New York Philharmonic for Columbia (available on Cala—see REVIEW), the second in 1958 for Everest (9037) with the same orchestra identified as the New York Stadium Symphony Orchestra. This is Stokowski's only complete recording of Serenade for Strings (in 1949 he recorded the Waltz with the NYP for Columbia, also reissued on Cala). Francesca and Serenade were recorded in October 1974 in London's Wembly, Brent Town Hall with producer Eric Smith and balance engineer Hans Lauterslager. There is a fine sense of space—what we hear is the original four-track recording, and there's no question the SACD process lets us hear more detail than on previous issues. There are other Stokowski Philips Tchaikovsky recordings: Capriccio Italien, Nutcracker Suite and the Polonaise and Waltz from Eugene Onegin, but these were made in 1973 and perhaps were not recorded in quad. In the meantime, Stokowski admirers rejoice!

Daniel Gatti's approach to Tchaikovsky is dynamic to the extreme; this is an excellent Pathétique by any standards. Like the previous Harmonia Mundi issues of Symphonies 4 (REVIEW) and 5 (REVIEW), this is Tchaikovsky on high energy. This recording was made in Watford Colosseum in London May 26-27, 2005 by the team of Robina G. Young and Brad Michel. Like the two previous issues, the recorded sound is very bright, very clear, but lacking in that underpinning of rich low bass that audiophiles like so much. Little use is made of rear channels to provide a realistic presence for the orchestra, which surely is heard on Pentatone's release of the same symphony with Seiji Ozawa and the Orchestra of Paris (see REVIEW).

Ondine's new live recording of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 was made in Philadelphia's Verizon Hall in May 2005, the same period as the PO's previous Ondine SACD of Bartók, Klein and Martinu. For both, Executive Producer was Kevin Kleinmann, Martha de Francisco was recording producer, Everett Porter the recording engineer. Eschenbach's performance is slow, without adrenalin although, of course, very well played. Sonics on this Tchaikovsky disk are as disappointing as on the first release (see REVIEW). The Kimmel Center obviously is problematic for recording as well as for audiences. There is a "floating" quality to orchestral sound, with massive strings that lack definition. Horns and other brass are somewhere in the back—subdued even in the triumphant last pages of the finale of the symphony. The audience was totally silent during the performance and applauds lustily at the conclusion; they are better recorded than the orchestra. The SACD is filled out with Eschenbach the pianist playing six movements from Tchaikovsky's The Seasons. Here the sound is just fine.


R.E.B. (May 2006)