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A long time has passed since I first heard Järvi’s Tchaikovsky, and I haven’t forgotten the impact: the Fifth Symphony he conducted on his debut with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in 1980 had finesse, flexibility and full-blown emotional drive. Judging by his latest recording, part of a series of complete Tchaikovsky ballet scores with the Bergen Philharmonic, the Estonian-American maestro has lost some of his touch.
The opening scenes of Acts 1 and 3, marked Allegro giusto, may be cleanly executed but they are so fast as to be brusque and unballetic. Elsewhere, despite the polish of the playing, not least in the set-piece dances of Acts 2 and 3, Järvi’s charm is only intermittently in evidence – and the Bergen orchestra cannot match the authentic Russian bloom that distinguishes Vladimir Fedoseyev’s Soviet-era account on Melodiya, which remains my favourite.
That you don’t have to be St Petersburg-trained (as Järvi was) to be a thoroughbred Tchaikovskian is underlined by Nézet-Séguin’s Pathétique with the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. The French-Canadian conductor leads a performance of intensity and feeling, underpinned by structural cohesion and go-for-broke playing. Bonus points, too, for the way he leads straight from the brazen March to the broken-hearted Finale. How often do we hear a Pathétique as fresh and compelling as this? Nézet-Séguin then accompanies Batiashvili in arrangements for violin and piano of seven Tchaikovsky songs – a touching coda.
(Chandos, 2 CDs)
Symphony No 6, Romances for violin and piano
Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Lisa Batiashvili