April 2006

Tchaikovsky - Symphony No. 6, "Pathétique"
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Daniele Gatti conductor
Harmonia Mundi HMU 907394
Format: CD
Released: 2006

by Richard Freed

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

Gatti’s Pathétique, which rounds out his coverage of Tchaikovsky’s Big Three symphonies, is the most persuasive performance so far in the series (which is eventually to encompass the entire cycle) and should appeal strongly to collectors who like to have more than a single version of basic repertory works. There’s no wallowing here, and no icy aloofness, either: Gatti is simply determined to let the music speak for itself, and it does, grippingly. Both of the inner movements are unusually fleet, the famous march-scherzo nearly as swift as in Karajan’s provocative 1948-49 recording with the Vienna Philharmonic, and the inner voices register tellingly without being artificially spotlighted. The final Adagio is taken broadly, but with momentum beautifully sustained. Throughout the performance, the Royal Philharmonic recalls its glory days under its founder Sir Thomas Beecham.

The marvelous Serenade for Strings is quite a bonus here, brought off on the same level of directness, unselfconscious elegance and unfeigned warmth of heart. The sound quality is well tailored to these performances, and an SACD edition will appear soon. Even the annotation calls for special mention: George Gelles, who has been providing notes for this series, has again given a stunning demonstration of what can be achieved, and Harmonia Mundi has given him enough space for his thoughtful and stimulating commentary. The tradeoff, as before, is that the "filler" piece gets barely a mention, but the Serenade hardly requires explication, and what Gelles has to say about the thrice-familiar Symphony is itself refreshing.

Way to go, HM!