Tchaikovsky: Symphony No 6 review | Andrew Clements' classical album of the week

Berlin Philharmonic/Petrenko (Berliner Philharmoniker)
Kirill Petrenko’s first recording with his new orchestra has plenty to admire but taken as a whole feels rather underpowered

For a conductor of his experience and rising international profile, Kirill Petrenko is represented very sparsely on disc – a few recordings of the music of Josef Suk, a couple of operas and supporting roles in some concertos and recordings of operatic excerpts, together with one of the works in the Berlin Philharmonic’s 2017 John Adams compilation.

That, though, is likely to change as his career with the Berlin orchestra gets under way – he takes over officially as its chief conductor in August.

A sample of what to expect comes with this 2017 performance of Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique Symphony, taken from the first concert that Petrenko conducted with the orchestra after his appointment was announced.

Though as lavishly packaged as the Berlin Philharmonic’s own CDs always are, at around £16 it’s still pretty poor value for just 45 minutes’ music. And for all the excellence of the orchestral playing – more confirmation that the orchestra really relishes working with this remarkably self-effacing musician – the performance does sometimes seem a little underpowered, in a work that does nothing by halves expressively.

There are things to admire in every movement – the burnished woodwind sound in the symphony’s opening moments, the Mendelssohnian lightness of the strings at the start of the scherzo, and tight control of the brass at the climax of the same movement – but taken as a whole, the performance doesn’t quite shake or stir as it should.

Also out this week

By coincidence, the Pathétique also forms part of an Accentus DVD of performances by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra under Andris Nelsons, one of the other leading contenders for the Berlin job when Petrenko was appointed in 2015. Recorded in the Gewandhaus in March last year, the disc also contains Mozart’s G minor Symphony K550 (though not, sadly, the new work by Thomas Larcher that was also part of the concert). Comparing the two Tchaikovsky interpretations is instructive. Both orchestras are magnificent, with perhaps the more lustrous strings in Leipzig, but where Petrenko integrates every musical detail into the dramatic scheme of the symphony with unselfconscious logic, there’s much more obvious stage management in Nelsons’ account, so that the results seem manipulative with their fierce emphases and exaggerated dramatic pauses. For a Pathétique that manages both detail and unforced emotional intensity, Yevgeny Mravinsky’s Deutsche Grammophon recording, though now almost 60 years old, remains unsurpassed.


Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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