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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.

Michael Cookson
MusicWeb International, March 2011

Founded in 2007 the Polish Sinfonia Iuventus Orchestra is a professional youth orchestra that comprises talented graduates and students from Polish music schools. They have here delivered an impressive performance of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth.

One of the most popular of his major works Tchaikovsky composed his Fifth Symphony in 1888. When he began work on it he was suffering from a deep depression. However, following a move to the countryside in the village of Frolovskoye, near Klin outside Moscow his state of mind became much more relaxed. The composer enjoyed the peace and quiet of his new surroundings finding great pleasure from his garden. It is not difficult to imagine that the E minor Symphony is a reflection of the emotional pain and anguish that Tchaikovsky was experiencing at the time of its composition.

The Fifth Symphony opens in a sombre mood and Sinfonia Iuventus under Jerzy Semkow convey a convincing emotional response with the ‘fate’ motif presented by deeply cavernous clarinets and bassoons over light strings. An anxious mood verging on hopelessness is proficiently maintained. Taken at a respectful pace in the second movement Maestro Semkow blends the primary elements of sorrow and beauty to great effect. Here I was struck by the broad dynamics that range from the hushed to the menacingly thunderous. Some of the woodwind playing is extremely attractive. In the third movement with Tchaikovsky using an appealing waltz rather than the usual scherzo, complemented by colourful and spirited playing. What I didn’t enjoy was the peculiar and unappealing trumpet tone. In the majestic final movement there’s a full blooded force creating a triumphant mood from its opening to the exhalation of the final bars. Throughout Semkow maintains a resolute control with really sensible tempi.

I can report clear sonics of a high quality. The woodwind is quite closely miked but is none the worse for that. I also enjoyed the exceptional photographs from the Tchaikovsky State House Museum, Klin. This is a very fine recording with playing that radiates enthusiasm, skill and passion.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group