, September 2011
Tchaikovsky’s heartfelt final symphony played with integrity and a cool head
Reconciling Tchaikovsky’s innate “classicism” with his passionate Russian soul is really at the heart of interpreting this great work—so the combination of a German orchestra and Russian conductor might on paper seem like a plan. In practice, the German half of the equation predominates.
The Gürzenich-Orchester Köln is plainly a fine ensemble: poised, cultured, eminently articulate. The arrival of the first movement’s second subject is well timed and tender, the tone not at all “overt”, the phrasing very gracious. Beautiful clarinet-playing invokes a faded memory of it, a seamless switch to bass clarinet probing unfathomable darkness. But the seismic arrival of the development is at once too emphatic, too “controlled”. As it spills over into that deep sostenuto in the strings, the sheer intensity of the sound is impressive with Kitajenko urging his first trumpet to twist the knife on the harmony. But still the feeling of a cool head prevails.
The middle section of the secondmovement Allegro con grazia is quite controversial—markedly slower, even funereal, darker than I can ever remember hearing it. The marching Scherzo builds by stealth but never to the point of feeling truly inexorable. The finale’s Adagio lamentoso doesn’t grow out of its threat but rather feels too much like a separate event. For sure it conveys immense dignity right through to the fading pulse of the coda—the playing is indeed heartfelt and beautiful—but I suppose what I’m saying here is that for all Kitajenko’s integrity one never gets enough of a sense of the deep fissures appearing in the work’s classical façade. That and the fact that it just isn’t Russian enough.