Symphony No. 4
Romeo And Juliet Overture
Colorado Symphony Orchestra
Marin Alsop Conductor
Review by Karl Lozier
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CD Number: Naxos CD 8.555714
All six of Tchaikovsky's symphonies are very popular and well received by most concertgoers. No one ascribes greatness to the first three, though all are quite lovely, melodic and appealing in different ways. My personal favorite is the second, often referred to as "The Little Russian" symphony. It is simply loaded with beautiful Russian folk melodies - try it someday if you are not familiar with it.
The last three symphonies of Tchaikovsky are his most popular and famous. In addition they are among the most popular and famous symphonies ever written. Musicologists seldom apply the term, "great" to any of them however for a number of reasons. That does not diminish their popularity one bit with music lovers. I would say that this symphony, number four, would come closest to being great perhaps by virtue of its dealing with that ultimate opponent,
Fate, though not nearly to the extent that Beethoven did. This symphony is not to be taken lightly despite a number of easily recognized melodies and other effects. Repeated listenings to Tchaikovsky's fourth symphony can reveal continuing beauty and enjoyment. For a quick pleasure fix simply try the third movement (Scherzo).
The Colorado Symphony Orchestra is the successor to the Denver Symphony. It is Colorado's only resident professional orchestra. Marin
Alsop, well-known violinist, is the current music director as well as with the Concordia Orchestra in New York. She studied at Yale, received a Master's Degree from Julliard and won the famous Koussevitsky Conducting Prize in 1989. She was also appointed Principal Conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in 2001.
The "Romeo And Juliet" is usually titled as a "Fantasy
Overture". It is an outstanding composition easily able to stand on its own. This might be the highlight of this CD. Here Alsop seems to have a firm mental picture of her goal and the composition as a whole. She follows that relatively consistently. The orchestra and recording seem to be a bit fuller or richer sounding in this overture as compared to the symphony. The bass drum is captured almost thunderously here as well as in the finale of the symphony. It can give your sub-woofers a real workout. As a long time Tchaikovsky lover, my collection includes many of the great and famous recordings of his music. Here the performance of the overture can be reasonably well compared with Munch's with the Boston Symphony Orchestra's LP
[RCA, LSC 2565] though sound-wise not near the equal of the rich and full bloom of that group recorded in Boston's Symphony Hall.
Somehow the recorded sound in the symphony is not quite identical to that accorded the overture. Usually the result is in favor of the overture. The difference is rather slight. Guesses would be a subtle change in microphone placement or a difference in humidity if recorded on a different day. Alsop's interpretation of the symphony is rather straightforward, not entirely consistent and at times simply a bit slack or limp. The recorded competition for major Tchaikovsky works over the years is simply fierce. My top recommendation is by one of my very favorite conductors, Pierre
Monteux, also with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, leading a truly great performance combined with great sound quality. A sound quality quirk here on this famous LP
[RCA, LS 2369] recording is that side one is not quite the equal of side two! In this Naxos recording, the popular third movement (Scherzo) with its famous pizzicato sections or passages (plucked strings) is ravishingly revealed in great detail. The soundscape depth is clearly apparent, as is every detail of all orchestral sections! Violas are clearly delineated from the first violins and so on. There is a great deal of interplay as well as back and forth bouncing around of beautiful melodies between string sections here. It could be argued, that with the relatively small forces of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, it is easier to capture every bit of detail. So be it; the engineers did it and you can enjoy it with great relish.
In the finale, that bass drum is again spectacularly captured. Unfortunately other things such as percussion effects and accents are sometimes almost lost way back in the far reaches of the soundscape. In performance and recording, here and overall, consistency is not always present. If Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony is new to you, I would suggest a different choice for your introduction. If you now have a favorite version then I would suggest you purchase this recording and enjoy its attributes. You should get some real kicks from comparing this to your favorite, movement by movement. With Naxos' bargain pricing, it is easy and rather painless to do.