Thomas’ Colorful And Engaging Tchaikovsky Pathétique

Review by: Victor Carr Jr


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

Like his 1971 recording of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 1, Michael Tilson Thomas’ probingly conducted and beautifully played Tchaikovsky Pathétique is intriguing for its “balletic” treatment of the score. This is not to suggest a light and facile performance; on the contrary, there’s plenty of intensity throughout. The great first-movement climax makes a stirring impact, while Thomas imbues the Finale with exceptional warmth and richness.

It’s Thomas’ treatment of the orchestra, especially his emphasis on wind instruments (favorites of Tchaikovsky), that gives the “balletic” impression. There’s a lot of similarity here with Thomas’ recording of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker (which was composed one year before the symphony), especially in the march-scherzo third movement, which here reminds so much of the Nutcracker I was envisioning the Battle of the Mouse King!

So, while this is not the “ultimate” Pathétique–the catharsis-inducing kind that leaves you in a gloom at the end–this is a performance that will have you reveling in the ingenuity and richness of Tchaikovsky’s orchestral writing, which here sounds more “like Tchaikovsky” than we find in, say, Muti’s more Italianate conception, or from Bernstein, who in his “heavenly lengths” final recording plays much of the piece like Shostakovich. Overall, this impresses as one of the finer San Francisco Symphony releases (available exclusively via download)–in very good sound, too.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Gatti (Harmonia Mundi); Jurowski (LPO); Muti/Philharmonia (EMI); Mravinsky (DG)

    San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, Michael Tilson Thomas

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