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David Hurwitz, March 2011

…these are very good performances, generally swift, incisive, and powerful…

James Reel
Fanfare, March 2011

In the early 1980s, it seemed that digital CDs were going to be wasted on a slew of drab new recordings of standard rep, but things eventually began to improve, especially when the previously obscure Mariss Jansons and the Oslo Philharmonic launched a very fine Tchaikovsky symphony series for Chandos. Here, finally, were Tchaikovsky performances that were carefully thought-out from phrase to phrase, exuding drama if never reaching the intensity of recordings by Jansons’s mentor, Yevgeny Mravinsky. Now in charge of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Jansons has been revisiting the Tchaikovsky symphonies for Bavarian Radio’s house label, BR Klassik. If you liked the conductor’s Oslo performance of the Tchaikovsky Fifth, you’ll probably like his new recording at least as well, possibly a bit more.

As before, Jansons keeps the music moving, maintaining moderate-to-fleet tempos and never getting bogged down in the manner of Bernstein or, on SACD, Eschenbach. Yes, sometimes he subdivides phrases with little pauses, but it’s part of an overall flexibility of phrasing and pacing, featuring small dynamic swells where Tchaikovsky invites them, not where the conductor merely imposes them. The performance breathes very naturally, and in terms of orchestral opulence, the Bavarians are suaver and richer than their Oslo counterparts, although the brass, in the Central European manner, may be a bit nasal for some tastes. The woodwind playing is characterful, although the solos sound a little spotlit. Otherwise, the blending and audio resolution are exemplary. Francesca da Rimini is similarly well judged, dynamic if lacking the last bit of drama you hear from conductors of yore, or, more recently, Gustavo Dudamel; still, overall it’s a bit more effective than what I remember from Jansons’s old EMI version.

Among the high-resolution surround competitors, the Jansons reading of the symphony is much more strongly characterized than that of his fellow Estonian Neeme Järvi on BIS (see Fanfare 29:2), a bit more pointed than what I’ve half-heard only on the radio from Daniele Gatti on Harmonia Mundi, less intermittently draggy than Christoph Eschenbach on Ondine (see 30:1), and maybe more psychologically astute than Yutaka Sado on Challenge, which I have not heard but which Steven E. Ritter endorsed in 34:1 mainly for its superb orchestral execution and sonics, despite a slight deficiency of visceral excitement compared to other leading versions. Among SACD issues of Francesca, Järvi on BIS is non-competitive, and PentaTone’s reissue of the quad Stokowski is highly effective but peculiar enough to be sui generis, so Jansons is the easy mainstream choice.

BBC Music Magazine, February 2011


This is Mariss Jansons’s second recording of the Fifth Symphony, the first having been part of the complete cycle that he recorded with the Oslo Philharmonic. He has not changed his approach, a good thing since it strikes me, in this symphony in particular, that his concern with clean, lean but intense articulation is just what is needed. His approach is obviously influenced by his one-time boss Evgeny Mravinsky, and the Leningrad Philharmonic sound which he cultivated. It is at the opposite extreme from the lush lusciousness of Karajan, effective in its way as that is.

Jansons pays a lot of attention to structure, and only puts on the brakes or accelerates where Tchaikovsky indicates—which is unusual. Yet there is no parsimony in his interpretation, or indeed in the superb playing of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, one of the most impressive in the world. Even Jansons can do little with the coda to the last movement, but it is less embarrassing than it often is. What is striking, too, is that he gives full value to those regions of the score which are most like the great ballets, as well as to the great symphonic build-ups of passionate outpouring.

The difficult-to-realise Francesca comes off well too, with the contrast between the divine torment visited on Francesca and her beloved and the beauty and value of that love itself vividly portrayed, while the whole is bound into at least a semblance of unity.

Andrew Achenbach
Gramophone, January 2011

Jansons and his cultured band leave nothing to chance in these favourites

It was with this very symphony that Mariss Jansons first made his mark a quarter of a century ago, and reacquainting myself with that best-selling Chandos recording (a venture that effectively catapulted the budding maestro and his Oslo PO into the international spotlight overnight), I’m struck once again by its combustible spontaneity, eager application and prodigious energy levels. Sparky temperament and risk-taking flair, though, are in curiously short supply, and the same holds true for this expertly balanced live relay from October 2009 with the Bavarian RSO.

Granted, one could hardly fail to admire the painstaking preparation, miraculous precision and breathtaking coordination of the orchestral playing (the third movement especially glides along with effortless poise). Moreover, Jansons’s control is phenomenal, and no fleck of detail would appear to escape his hawk-like gaze. On the downside, though, the Latvian’s intermittent tweakings of dynamic can jar on repetition, the horn solo that opens the slow movement lacks something in velvety allure, and the longer the performance wore on, I found myself craving far more in the way of edge-of-seat abandon. Francesca da Rimini is similarly micro-managed—articulate and shrewdly paced, to be sure, but the pervading mood is oddly detached. Stokowski, Mravinsky, Rozhdestvensky and Rostropovich all generate heaps more electrical charge, adrenalin and emotional heft.

Jansons’s many fans will naturally want to hear this BR-Klassik pairing but in truth neither of his versions of the main work supplants from my own affections a veritable phalanx of infinitely more involving interpretations from the likes of Koussevitzky, Mravinsky, Monteux (Boston, 1958), Szell, Dorati, von Matačić, Horenstein, Haitink, Ashkenazy and Abbado (Berlin, 1994).

Phil Muse
Audio Video Club of Atlanta, January 2011

There’s nothing like an alert, spirited performance to bring an old symphonic warhorse to life. That’s just what Mariss Jansons, at the podium of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, imparts to Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Op. 64. Jansons paces this performance so beautifully that we never weary of it at any point in it, which is another way of saying that we never have the feeling of “just marking time” between the big climaxes. As a matter of fact, we have a very strong sense here of the work’s trajectory from a subdued opening with a foreboding of tragedy to an utterly compelling sense of triumph at the end.

The progress from funeral cortège to triumphant march involves the transmutation of the striking theme that first occurs in the work’s very opening. Heard in every movement, it gives the symphony a strong cyclic sense, in common with Franck’s D Minor Symphony that premiered the same year (1888). Since this theme is identified with Fate, which can be either dreaded or embraced positively, it affords excellent material for the work’s upward trajectory. As the theme is so closely associated with this symphony, it is interesting to note that it first occurred in Glinka’s opera A Life for the Tsar, where it corresponds to the line “Turn not unto sorrow.” How well Tchaikovsky and Jansons respond to that message!

Tchaikovsky showed himself very form conscious in the Fifth Symphony, and Jansons is cognizant of this fact, which reveals itself in the conflict between rhythm and lyricism throughout the earlier movements. The claws of compelling rhythm seem to clutch at the heart of the lyrical impulse in the early movements, although we have a momentary respite from this in the famous romantic theme of the Andante cantabile movement, which Tchaikovsky marks con alcuna licenza (with some freedom). Jansons interprets this to mean with considerable discretion as opposed to abandon. The Waltz movement glides forth with its accustomed charm, so that when it, too, is cut short, as it must be, we long to hear it again. But the finale is the thing. It is in two parts. A longer opening section, marked Allegro maestoso (majestic or stately), comes to an emphatic full stop on the home key that is soon revealed to be merely a half cadence preparing for an even stronger return to the tonic in the concluding Allegro vivace section. Interpreters vary on this ending, some viewing it as festive but essentially hollow, imbued with false jubilation. Mariss Jansons makes it clear he is having none of this: his Tchaikovsky Fifth ends on an unmistakeable note of triumph.

The “filler,” if you can so describe Tchaikovsky’s 23-minute symphonic fantasy on Dante’s tale of Francesca da Rimini, is also much to Jansons’ liking. So much so that we gladly forgive the composer his undeniable longeurs in developing this tragic story of lovers doomed to be tossed by the tempests of passion through all eternity (all the swirling sixteenth notes in the stings) for the sake of one moment of forbidden love. Jansons’ is the most plausible and compelling performance I have yet heard of this muchmistreated work, whose conclusion bears out Francesca’s famous words “There is no greater pain than to recall past happiness in a time of misery.”

Stephen Habington
Classical Music Sentinel, January 2011

Mariss Jansons demonstrated his mastery of the Tchaikovsky symphonies more than two decades ago in an award-winning complete cycle with the Oslo Philharmonic for Chandos (now in a bargain-priced 6-disc box – CHAN 10392(6)). These live concert recordings from October 2009 and July 2010 provide proof that Jansons’ mastery is undiminished and even enhanced. Compared to the classical refinement of Mikhail Pletnev (Russian National Orchestra/DG) and the pyrotechnics of Valery Gergiev (VPO/Philips), Jansons takes a straightforward approach to the symphony’s score. His tempos are well chosen and the dynamics unexaggerated. The supremely gifted response of the Bavarian RSO and state-of-the-art recording locks this release in as a benchmark performance on disc for the Fifth. And the same could be said for Jansons’ account of Francesca da Rimini. Tchaikovsky’s Symphonic fantasy after Dante is delivered with daemonic intensity. The lyrical passages of the love theme are merely the lull before a shattering conclusion.

All things considered, this is a very satisfying CD and a major advance in the Jansons series of recordings for BR Klassik.

Steven Ritter
Audiophile Audition, November 2010

This is a very mainline Tchaik 5 that for the most part satisfies very nicely, and fires on all cylinders. Jansons’s Bavarians play nicely with no gaffs, and the string sound is quite lush and pointed, as it should be for this symphony. The surround sound is very good, though not as good as this work has already received on record, with the brass a little hidden in the overall sonic structure.

Jansons does some nice things with this work in his phrasing and fearlessness in taking some interpretative chances, and I like that very much. For instance, his introduction to the first movement is not overdone and lethargic, like his competitor Eschenbach on Ondine; he achieves a nice balance among his various choirs, and the tempos make sense. But then in the second movement, at the reappearance of the big tune, he unexpectedly decides to greatly speed up the passage for dramatic effect. While I admire the risk, I think it fails miserably and ruins one of the most important dramatic moments in this symphony. Then again, at the conclusion of movement 4 he does some nice things with the dynamics that are not in the score (no big deal) that work very well.

Jansons is a very solid reading that entertains greatly. And the addition of his Francesca da Rimini is a very attractive proposition as the Bavarian players really dig into this thing, one of the best I have heard.

Blair Sanderson, November 2010

Mariss Jansons and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra recorded Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 in E minor and the symphonic fantasy Francesca da Rimini in 2009, and released their vivid live performances in the hybrid SACD format on the German BR-Klassik label. The orchestra plays with a rich sound and polished technique, and the recording offers remarkable clarity of details in the inner voices and exquisite tone colors, so the DSD recording and multichannel sound are put to good use. Yet because the sophisticated audio equipment picks up everything good that happens in the orchestra, it also captures the unattractive sounds of the conductor, which are either grunting or a misguided attempt to hum along with the music. Unfortunately, this is a characteristic shared with too many musicians, so some listeners have learned to tolerate this humming along as a quirk of geniuses. All the same, Jansons’ indiscreet noises may be too great a distraction for some listeners and their enjoyment of this album may be diminished over a problem that could have been avoided with a different microphone arrangement. However, if some allowance is made for that problem, the performance of the Symphony No. 5 is powerful and compelling, and Francesca da Rimini has tremendous drama, thanks to the overwhelming force and extreme depth of the orchestra’s sound.

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