Review by: David Hurwitz
Artistic Quality: 8
Sound Quality: 9
What is it about Francesca da Rimini that makes it so difficult to perform successfully? I mean, it’s not rocket science. All you have to do is play the daylights out of the “hell” sections, and keep the love music in the middle moving steadily on its way to a passionate climax. Is that so hard? Evidently so. Most performances are simply boring, as is this one. There’s no need to waste time on details. Järvi simply doesn’t play the wild outer climaxes with enough juice. The whole thing, consequently, sounds labored and tame.
All the more remarkable, then, is the fact that the performance of the Fifth Symphony is spectacular. It’s been a long time since we’ve heard an interpretation this committed, this exciting, and this emotionally powerful. The first movement reveals at the outset Järvi’s determination to keep the music moving purposefully forward, while leaving himself some room to linger romantically at such juicy moments as the transition between the first and second subjects. His account of the slow movement is gorgeous, achingly lyrical, while the third movement waltz offers the apotheosis of elegance, all of its delightful orchestral details (stopped horns, for example) deftly touched in.
But it’s the finale that really brings home the bacon. Always a troublesome piece to play convincingly, this has to be the most cogent, exciting account of it since Mravinisky’s. It’s not just that the basic allegro tempo is swift, and the playing uncommonly disciplined. No, what makes Järvi special is his ability to keep the music interesting by floating the tunes atop Tchaikovsky’s perpetual accompanying ostinatos. There’s no risk of monotony here, and in the coda he observes Tchaikovsky’s tempo indications to the letter–something that almost never happens but proves triumphantly that the composer knew exactly what he was doing.
So, how to rate a performance of the symphony that really needs to be heard, shackled to a moribund version of the symphonic poem? I have to deduct a couple of points, just to be fair, but I would get this excellently engineered disc anyway for the symphony and simply ignore the rest.
Reference Recording: Symphony: Mravinsky (DG); Haitink (Philips/Decca)