Some days ago I covered the initial three Tchaikovsky symphonies at the Colón played by the Buenos Aires Philharmonic conducted by Enrique Arturo Diemecke starting the astonishing marathon of the complete creations of the composer in this important and difficult genre. As you may remember, this special series of concerts also includes other symphonic works.
Thus, the Fourth was preceded by the Italian Capriccio; the Fifth, by the tone poem "Francesca da Rimini"; and Nº6, absurdly followed by "Romeo and Juliet", when that symphony is Tchaikovsky´s supreme masterpiece and his swan song. I was sorry to miss the Friday date (the one with the Fifth) but that was the day of the National Symphony´s first pre-season concert, and both the artists and the programme were very enticing: the NS merits full support. I will write shortly about this event.
Probably the lowest point of the Colón series came with the Italian Capriccio, a typical "light classic" without the quality of Rimsky-Korsakov´s "Spanish Capriccio". Pleasant enough, especially in the final fast dance, but also with excessive percussion and square rhythms, it was the victim of a second-rate interpretation in two basic senses: far too noisy on the one hand; on the other, in the main slow melody, a wrong distortion of phrasing gave us a huge slowdown in the first three notes of the melody each time it appears.
Things picked up sharply with the Fourth Symphony. Written in 1877, it shows great command of orchestration and a powerful handling of rhetorics in the dramatic First movement, dominated by the Destiny theme of the very beginning. The Second is elegiac and imbued with lovely melody. But the pearl is the Third, with its impish long pizzicato and then the contrast with flighty woodwinds and humoristic brass. The Fourth movement is a brilliant popular feast...but near the end it is interrupted by the Destiny fanfare; to no avail, for the joyous mood goes on with ever increasing speed until the final chord.
There were small flaws in the First movement (some unclean trumpet sounds) but the phrasing was right and the impact of this dense music reached the audience. From then on the level was consistently high, especially in the impeccable playing of the pizzicati and the dynamic rushes of the feast.
Reliable people told me that the concert with the Fifth was very good, but of course that´s as far as I can go as I was hearing Elgar and Reger at the time.
Apart from my total rejection about putting initially on programme the Sixth Symphony instead of giving it the lion´s part, I found both interpretations very convincing. Apart from a glaring horn mistake and a small misadjustment in the First movement, everything in the Symphony was as it should be, with fine control of phrasing and different tempi from the conductor and intense, accurate playing. I particularly admired the refined pianissimo execution by clarinet soloist Mariano Rey.
I have long been amazed by the sleight-of-hand of the composer, who somehow contrives to give the feeling of a waltz in the Second movement, although the typical pulse of three beats is converted to five (two plus three) in every measure. And even more in the Third movement, where what is probably the greatest symphonic March ever written is marked in four beats instead of two! But the ending dispels the triumphant and massive moods, with what may be the most moving of all symphonic laments.
I find "Romeo and Juliet", called by the composer Fantasy overture, Tchaikovsky´s most accomplished tone poem. Both the slow melodic parts and the vivid evocation of the fights, with its dislocated and imaginative rhythms, give us the gist of the Shakespearian drama. The splendid discipline of the orchestra under the firm and intelligent command of the conductor gave us a model interpretation.
With so much that was positive, I´m sorry to have to mention two matters that bothered me. One: in recent years (not before) Diemecke has been increasingly showman, and always addresses the audience with remarks upon the scores that are often kitschy, infantile and superficial. As you know, the Colón´s hand programmes always carry comments on the works, so even if what the conductor says were relevant, the job has already been done, and much better. One good thing about Diemecke is that he has always asked the public not to applaud between movements, so I was astonished when he mentioned that at the end of the third movement of the Sixth the music is so brilliant that many people applaud, but this time he did NOT ask them to refrain from doing so, and so they did...
Two: a healthy and ingrained custom is that home orchestras don´t give encores (visiting orchestras do) but this time Diemecke, prompted by an undiscerning section of the audience, ceded, and in a bad way, providing a chunk of "Romeo and Juliet". This was unmusical and wrong.
But I want to finish on a positive note: this integral series was a real treat for Tchaikovski fans and proof of the stamina and knowledge of conductor and orchestra. It was only possible because the players came from their Summer holidays two weeks before the start on March 1, but for many of them the first three symphonies were new scores, and they learned fast and well.
For Buenos Aires Herald