Victor Carr Jr
, June 2011
Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 is a test for any orchestra, and certainly for a “youth” ensemble like the Polish Sinfonia Iuventus Orchestra, which was formed in 2007 and consists of graduates from Poland’s music academies. Under founder Jerzy Semkow the Sinfonia Iuventus passes the test with flying colors, offering playing of fully professional caliber. Semkow knows his players’ strengths, and he exploits them to cultivate a real “Tchaikovsky sound” in the winds and brass, which he uses to good effect in the more aggressive passages of the first movement and finale. Semkow also knows the music well, and it shows in his richly detailed, nuanced (listen to the perfectly judged rubato in the Andante cantabile), and heartfelt interpretation.
It’s only in the strings that the performance wants for more. The players produce a sweet tone but lack sufficient body to create the kind of surging string sound we expect in this music—and that we get from top American, European, and Russian orchestras (or even right at home in Poland, with the Warsaw Philharmonic under Antoni Wit, who provides a more emotionally engaging rendition on Naxos).
So, while you should first have one of the recommended versions, Semkow’s offers a fresh, cleanly played perspective on this great warhorse, recorded in demonstration-quality sound.