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Pyotr Tchaikovsky
Recommended Recordings



"Truly there would be a reason to go mad were it not for music."

Ballett-Suiten
(Eberhard Finke, Leon Spierer; Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra; Mstislav Rostropovich, conductor)
Shortly after recording these three ballet suites in 1978, Mstislav Rostropovich likened conducting the Berlin Philharmonic to driving a locomotive. You get on, and you go where it takes you, he said--but in this case, the orchestra went where he wanted it to go. The playing is magnificent, but it is the characterization, the things Rostropovich gets the players to do that they wouldn't otherwise have done, that makes these accounts so memorable. As you listen, you are transported to a different world, for no conductor understands Tchaikovsky's soul better than Rostropovich. The delicacy is amazing, the power overwhelming; the analog recording captures it all in outstanding fashion. (review by Ted Libbey)

Eugen Onegin
(Thomas Allen, Paata Burchuladze, et al; Dresden Staatskapelle, Leipzig Radio Chorus; James Levine, conductor)
Levine has assembled a cast strong in both singing and acting, although Mirella Freni is a bit mature for the teenage Tatiana and there are no Russians in the leading roles. The conducting quite properly emphasizes the psychological and emotional extremes in a story deeply imbued with the Byronic attitudes and poses of literary Romanticism. The orchestra, in James Levine's (and Tchaikovsky's) hands becomes a character in this drama as vital as any of the singers, and Pushkin's poem-novel, the source of the opera, can be felt with unusual clarity underlying this interpretation. (review by Joe McLellan)

Piano & Violin Concertos
(Emil Gilels, David Oistrakh; New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra; Zubin Mehta and Eugene Ormandy, conducting)
David Oistrakh was one of those violinists beloved by people who don't especially like violinists. Don't get me wrong, plenty of violin aficionados love him too. But the fact that he played with such warmth of tone and musicality, never indulging in the screeching cat-music stuff that some violinists think sounds flashy, makes him uniquely listenable to folks not into violin playing for its own sake. Perhaps the fact that he was also a distinguished conductor had something to do with it, for he always seems to know where he is--how everything fits together. His performance of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto is a case in point: soulful, exciting, never ragged or overblown. Add Emil Gilels' epic rendering of the Piano Concerto and how can you refuse? (review by David Hurwitz)

Symphonies 4, 5 & 6
(Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra; Eugen Mravinsky, conductor)
These recordings by Evgeny Mravinsky and his Leningrad Philharmonic, taped in the autumn of 1960 while they were on tour in London, are among the absolute classics of the catalog. They are readings of hair-raising intensity--the finale of the Fourth is marked allegro con fuoco, and if you want to know what con fuoco means, all you have to do is listen for a moment. No one else has ever had the nerve, or the ability, to play the music this way. The treatment is very Russian: the extremes are more extreme, the passions more feverish, the melancholy darker, the climaxes louder. In that department, the development section of the first movement of the Pathètique has to be heard to be believed. The sound is remarkably good for the time, a little edgy in the loudest pages but wonderfully present, just like the performances themselves. (review by Ted Libbey)

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