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Teodor Currentizis’ Super-Heated Tchaikovsky Pathétique

Victor Carr Jr

Artistic Quality:

Sound Quality:

Reviewing the recent Michael Tilson Thomas recording of Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique, I noted how the conductor’s balletic approach had the symphony sounding more “like Tchaikovsky” than some other performances. That “other” now includes Teodor Currentzis, who, with his chamber-scaled MusicAeterna ensemble cultivates a raw, lean sound that’s from another world entirely than that of Thomas’ San Francisco Symphony. Of course, this is unmistakably the music of Tchaikovsky, but Currentzis’ emphasis on dark timbres and sinewy textures lends the music an intriguingly unfamiliar feel.

After the brooding introduction, Currentzis’ cool treatment of the composer’s “neo-baroque” writing for strings in the first subject brings to mind Stravinsky. But then a very different Stravinsky emerges in the conductor’s raging take on Tchaikovsky’s violent development–low strings furiously rumbling, timpani crescendos, blaring trumpets, horns sounding the alarm—these almost pre-echo the Dance of the Earth from The Rite of Spring. Throughout the performance, Currentzis’ expressive intensity borders on the extreme (the first-movement climax is one of the grimmest on disc, while the big tune’s reprise leaps and soars, Hollywood-style), more so than Mravinsky, whose 1961 DG recording still serves as a model. Thus, we get a blazing, almost too-fast March-scherzo, and lunging string chords over heartbeat timpani at the finale’s conclusion.

The big negative here is the engineering. Made in a cavernous acoustic, it suffers from the kind of dynamic limitation reminiscent of 1970s Melodiya productions, with climaxes that never get really loud, just shrill. I mean, how does this happen in 2017 (when this was made) with modern equipment? It makes you wonder if this was done on purpose to take us back to the “good old” Soviet days. In sum, Currentzis’ Pathétique deserves one–or two–listens, but afterward it may wind up as a recording that you’ll want to play only on special occasions.

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Fricsay (DG); Jurowski (LPO); Mravinsky (DG); Muti/Philharmonia (EMI)

    MusicAeterna, Teodor Currentzis

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