Valery Gergiev / Mariinsky (Kirov) Theater Orchestra

Tchaikovsky: Symphonies Nos 4 & 5

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Famous for his passionate involvement with Russian music, Valery Gergiev readily throws himself into the great works of the Romantic and modern traditions with a commitment that always feels personal. In the case of Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4 in F minor and the Symphony No. 5 in E minor, released in 2019 on the Mariinsky label, Gergiev favors what is best described as a hyper-Romantic approach, with extremes of dynamics, tempos, and phrasing that are profoundly and at times disturbingly subjective. Tchaikovsky's music often invites a degree of exaggeration, because his expressions and moods are typically over-the-top and self-indulgent, even by the standards of his time. Yet in Gergiev's souped-up performances here with the Mariinsky Orchestra, the pacing is so distorted by rapidly changing rubato and peculiar attenuations at the end of phrases that it feels as if Gergiev was stretching the music back and forth like a rubber band, pulling it taut to maximum tension, then letting it go slack moments later without a clear reason for the sudden change or any feeling of release. Gergiev is best in the Fourth's delightful Scherzo and the Fifth's gorgeous Waltz, and more or less conventional in the brassy Finales, but these movements hardly compensate for the rest of the performances, which even die-hard Tchaikovsky fans may find difficult to comprehend.

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