Kurt Masur

Tchaikovsky: Symphonies; Piano Concertos; Famous Waltzes

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In its way -- its very, very Teutonic way -- this is a great set of Tchaikovsky's symphonies and piano concertos. Not only does it contain all six numbered symphonies plus the Manfred Symphony and all three numbered concertos plus the Concert Fantasia, but it also contains several of the composer's best-known symphonic fantasies -- Romeo and Juliet plus Francesca da Rimini -- and a whole disc of his best-known waltzes culled from ballets and other sources. Beyond the repertoire, it features expert orchestral playing from either the Gewandhausorchester -- big, warm, and full -- and the New York Philharmonic -- big, cool, and clear -- and a brilliant soloist in pianist Elisabeth Leonskaja. And on top of that, it features the skillful and dedicated conducting of Kurt Masur, who comprehends and appreciates the less-known works like the Third Symphony, as well as the best-known works like the Fifth Symphony. Of course, the whole production is very, very Teutonic: the sound of the orchestras is heavier, the articulation of the playing is weightier, the phrasing is smoother, the textures are ampler, the colors are blended, and the rhythms are more on the downbeat. For some listeners, this may be the wrong approach to take to the Russian, all too Russian, Tchaikovsky, and for them, there are plenty of Russian recordings to choose from. But for listeners who already know Tchaikovsky as a Russian and long to hear Tchaikovsky as a German, Masur's approach, full of rugged integrity and gritty strength as it is, may be preferable to Herbert von Karajan's approach, full of smooth polish and refined sonorities as it is. Warner Classics' digital sound is large scale in scope but small scale in details.

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