Kirill Petrenko / Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 "Pathétique"

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Conductor Kirill Petrenko emerged as something of a dark horse to become conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic, and this live performance of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74 ("Pathétique"), suggests why. It is a testimony to the art of musicians and their conductor, shaped in entirely original ways, who demands and gets precise responses from the players. Petrenko's performance makes an interesting pairing with the intense one from the Mariinsky Orchestra under Valery Gergiev, also released in 2019: where Gergiev's reading of the work is emotionally raw and even seems to depict a personality in the process of fragmentation, Petrenko is delicate and detailed. His opening movement holds the music's many rhythmic strands together and reveals many interior lines. In his Allegro con grazia, the emphasis is on the grazia; the movement loses some of its dancelike character in favor of subtlety and a floating feeling. The third movement, Allegro molto vivace, might not make audiences stand up and cheer in the conventional way, but it is uniquely thought through and has a kind of jolly quality. Which leaves the finale, where there is no getting away from the despair. Even here, Petrenko smooths out the dotted rhythms some at the end, where the music descends into what turned out to be suicidal depths. For the common run of listeners who seek out Tchaikovsky for maximal emotional impact, this may not be the way to go. However, it bodes well for Petrenko's tenure in Berlin, for it is a technically masterful reading. The performance was recorded live at the Berlin Philharmonie in 2017, and the sound is pretty extraordinary: there is no audience noise and everything is so clean you might have been in a studio, except that you weren't. It's strong enough that the included audiophile downloads may be superfluous for all but audiophiles.

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