A Bare-Bones Tchaikovsky Pathétique

Review by: Victor Carr Jr


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 10

Thomas Dausgaard has such a convincing way with Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique symphony that I couldn’t help wondering how much finer this would have been if he had had a full-size orchestra with which to realize his vision. It’s mainly the smallish string section, employing what sounds to be the vibrato-less playing style favored by the period-performance crowd, that’s the cause for concern. Admittedly the strings’ dry sound does underline the bleak character of the first movement’s introduction, while making the allegro proper sound truer to its baroque inspiration (provided you take the period-practice aesthetic as legitimate).

Come the “big tune” second subject, however, and it’s obvious what’s missing. After all, this is one of the most emotionally expressive works in the genre, one that relies on luxurious string tone for its effect. Yet, despite the wan sound of the strings, Dausgaard’s urgent rubato brings out the music’s passion, both here and in the violent development section, while “the big tune” soars triumphantly upon its return.

Dausgaard takes both inner movements at quickish tempos, especially the March-Scherzo, which is quite stimulating, even though it could do with more prominent brass. Again, the Finale is problematic for ears accustomed to the traditional rich string sonority. However, Dausgaard makes the cold, spare playing style sound curiously appropriate for Tchaikovsky’s great lament—until the climax, where the barely audible strings have us wishing there were more of them. Even so, Dausgaard’s is one of the more involving and compelling Tchaikovsky Pathétiques in recent years.

So many recordings of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony tack on Romeo and Juliet that it has become cliché. And unfortunately, Dausgaard’s reading sounds more obligatory than inspired. The shortchanged strings are even more of a liability in this hyper-romantic piece—their love theme makes Romeo sound like a 98-pound weakling. But, you don’t have to play R&J just because it’s on the disc. So just ignore it and enjoy the stirring, well-recorded Pathétique performance.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Mravinsky (DG); Gergiev/Kirov (Philips); Gatti (EMI); Muti/Philharmonia (EMI)

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