lunes, marzo 07, 2016

The complete Tchaikovsky symphonies in a week (I)

            Last March Enrique Arturo Diemecke inaugurated his tenth year as Principal Conductor of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic with a tour de force: the nine symphonies by Beethoven in a special subscription series. It had an enormous success. So, in what seems to be a trend (the artist has in mind for 2017 the four Brahms symphonies), this March he is presenting the integral Tchaikovsky symphonies at the Colón: not just the popular ones (fourth to sixth) but also the neglected initial three.
            Diemecke has programmed  in an intelligent way, combining them with tone poems and  other orchestral pieces. To judge from the first two sessions, this will be a cycle to remember.
            Back in the Fifties Fabien Sevitzky was the first conductor to do here the integral Tchaikovsky symphonies; I don´t recall another series, though I may be wrong. Anyway the special interest for me or other seasoned concertgoers that keep their curiosity alive is the possibility of hearing the first three. As a kid I knew and liked the Third, Polish, in 78 rpms recorded by Kindler with Washington´s National Symphony.  I met the First and the Second much later and I also enjoyed them, and of course I eventually had the complete series by Svetlanov and the USSR Symphony Orchestra  and Maazel with the Vienna Philharmonic in the vinyl era. 
            I drew a conclusion: for every ten times one hears the  last Tchaikovsky symphonies, proper programming should let us have twice the initial ones. In fact their presence is much more spaced, so I especially welcome the Diemecke initiative. Just one blot: in the Third he made cuts in movements one and five, and I am adamant on this matter: if the composer goes on too long for the conductor´s taste, it doesn´t give him the right to emasculate the original.
             He had done it with with the early Dvorák symphonies: Diemecke conducted all nine for the first time here, and he premièred then  the First, Second and Fourth, as well as revived the Third (premièred by Smetácek in 1973); I felt then that he did a disservice to the music lover by cutting huge chunks in all four, especially as they had never been done. We have the right to hear them as the composer wanted.
            The First Symphony is rightly called "Winter Dreams" due to the wistful character of its first movement. Written in 1865 when he was only 25,  he later revised it  in 1874. Bear in mind that at the time the only Russian composer of some renown that had written symphonies was Anton Rubinstein, who wrote six but kept to a rather Germanic style; three of them were created between 1850 and 1855. Balakirev finished his First in 1866, Borodin in 1867, Rimsky-Korsakov in  the same year as Tchaikovsky. They were exploring new territory and they did it with great talent.
            Whenever I hear the First I am astonished that the Tchaikovskian imprint is already there, although it´s true that we hear the revision (but in fact all of the above revised their symphonies ). There´s the melancholy, the gift for melody, the rich harmony, the love for give-and-take between orchestral groups, the exuberance in the fast joyful music and, yes, his rhetorical exaggeration. It´s silly to denigrate it because it isn´t as important as the Sixth, what we have is an admirable first step in a difficult genre.
            The Overture 1812 is well-known but rarely programmed in subscription series: its bombastic final minutes seem to relegate it to the category of Light Classic Concerts, and they are few and far between in BA. It´s a shame, every March we should have a whole series for there´s plenty of worthwhile stuff to play. In fact, the Overture, which of course concerns the victory of Russian troops over Napoleon, mixes the Marseillaise with the Russian hymn "God save the Czar" with cunning ability and plenty of counterpoint.
            I haven´t seen a score but several recorded performances add canons in the final minutes, and I heard at River Plate Stadium decades ago such a version. I don´t know what instrument gave the effect of canons in the Phil´s execution but it was pretty realistic.
            As is his style, Diemecke was in both Overture and Symphony his dynamic, charismatic self, with well-chosen tempi and reasonably good playing considering that it´s the first concert of the season.
            The following night gave us the Second and the Third Symphonies. The Second (1872, revised 1879) is called "Little Russian" ("Ukrainian") due to the folk melodies of the last movement. It shows a growing maturity especially in the First movement, where the sad music of the Introduction is an omen of what we will hear in the Fifth and Sixth, and then we have the splendid main fast part, admirably handled.
            The Third is rather curious for it has five movements. Again, its nickname "Polish" is given due to the last movement, "alla Polacca". Written in 1875, it wasn´t revised. I particularly enjoy the humor and charm of the Second movement ("alla Tedesca"), and the flighty Scherzo (Fourth movement).
            With considerable changes in its personnel, this second team of the Phil showed flexibility and good training to assimilate music that for many was new. The audience responded with cheers to Diemecke´s vehement but controlled interpretations.

For Buenos Aires Herald