The recording industry is already gearing up for the key selling period of the year. This seven-disc box makes an obvious seasonal gift, comprising all of Tchaikovsky’s symphonies and piano concertos, plus three of his favourite orchestral pieces.
Semyon Bychkov’s so-called Tchaikovsky Project had its beginnings back in 2015. Concerts were followed by recordings of the Symphony No. 6 andManfred Symphony, which received sufficiently positive reviews for the rest of the works to be recorded. The completed “Project” is appearing for the first time.
There are some rewarding features that run throughout. Prime among these is the cultured playing of the Czech Philharmonic, one of the under-sung paragons of the orchestral world, well-blended, understated in virtuosity, and never vulgar, though that last characteristic is typical of Bychkov, too.
The Tchaikovsky portrayed here is a mature, thoughtful, deeply romantic soul. Bychkov admirably refuses to drive the music to the limits of hysteria, as some highly praised recent recordings have, but the downside is that the intensity of these performances comes and goes.
It is unlucky that the recording of the Piano Concerto No. 1 (in its 1879 version) should arrive a week after Martha Argerich and Daniel Barenboim at the BBC Proms. Maybe Argerich’s wild, inspirational playing is not for every day, but Bychkov’s lack of energy leaves Kirill Gerstein quite becalmed — a shame, as these concertos show Gerstein to be a fine Tchaikovsky pianist.
Overall, though, the strengths of the set outweigh its weaknesses. Among some admirable performances are the lyrical early symphonies, a tender Romeo and Juliet and a Serenade for Strings that sings with heartfelt warmth.
‘The Tchaikovsky Project’ is released by Decca
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