TCHAIKOVSKY:  Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36. (Kurt Sanderling, cond).  Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Op. 64.  Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74 "Pathétique" (Evgeny Mravinsky, cond).
Leningrad Philharmonic Orch.

DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 447 423 (2 CDs) (M) TT:  70:37 & 62:12


Some years ago I wrote a "Basic Library" for Stereophile covering more than seventy recordings of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No.6 mentioning that the famous Mravinsky/Leningrad Philharmonic 1956 recording had yet to appear on CD.  Shortly afterwards it was issued on DGG, and now we have the original 3-LP coupling of Symphonies 4, 5 and 6 in one 2-CD  "Originals" set with "Original-Image Bit-Processing.".

All three are monophonic recordings made in June 1956 in Vienna's Grosser Konzerthaussal.  The Sixth is the real prize here, a performance of demonic intensity, worthy of inclusion in the Pathétique Hall of Fame which also includes mono recordings by Furtwängler, Toscanini (Philadelphia Orchestra), and two by the Concertgebouw Orchestra, either of the Mengelberg's (1937 or 1941) and the 1951 Paul Van Kempen, the latter once available in a 3CDset (Philips 438 310).  Although the 1956 Mravinsky has well-balanced mono sound, many listeners may wish to hear his later live digital stereo recording made in the orchestra's Large Hall October 17, 1982, available on Erato (45756).  This is even more intense than the earlier one with the benefit of fine stereo sonics, although at the beginning of the first movement's development section there is almost too much ferocious sound.

The 1956 Fifth is of equal merit, although some listeners might find French horn vibrato a bit too wide in the second movement solo. The beginning of the Allegro vivo section of the finale (3:03) is played at super speed, an astonishing display of orchestral virtuosity.  It's different from the three other Mravinsky Leningrad live recordings I've heard, from the 1961 Bergen Festival (Hunt 714), the 1978 Vienna Festival (Melodiya VDC 1008, n.l.a.) and in their own hall in 1983 (Erato 45755). In all three, Mravinsky begins this episode softly.

Inclusion of Kurt Sanderling's recording of Symphony No. 4, recorded during the same sessions, surely is a plus although one wonders why Mravinsky didn't conduct this as well as the other two. Collectors of Tchaikovsky symphonies surely will wish to have this fine set: if you only want Mravinsky's Pathétique you'll save money by getting his 1982 stereo recording on Erato. Investigate as well Leonard Bernstein's 1986 New York Philharmonic performance in which his slow interpretation of the finale (17:12, almost double any other recorded performance) plumbs the depths of despair and tragedy more than any other conductor.

R.E.B. (Jan. 2001)