Evgeny Svetlanov

Tchaikovsky: Hamlet; Symphony No. 5

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There is no one school of Russian Tchaikovsky conducting. There is the sinewy Yevgeny Mravinsky approach, the lyrical Kiril Kondrashin approach, and the modernist Igor Markevitch approach, among many others. But if there is a central Russian style in Tchaikovsky conducting, it probably belongs to Evgeny Svetlanov. Take, as an exemplar, this late-'60s coupling of the master's Fifth Symphony and Hamlet Overture performed by the State Academy Symphony Orchestra. For Svetlanov, Tchaikovsky is above all else a dramatic composer and he subordinates almost everything to the score's narrative elements. More than willing to bend tempos, Svetlanov makes the most of the music's ebb and flow, pushing forward in developments, pulling back at climaxes, and relentlessly driving in codas. Part of the reason these performances sound so Russian, of course, is the quality of the orchestral playing. With searing strings, pungent woodwinds, blistering brass, and a first horn player who really knows how to work a vibrato, the State Academy Symphony sounds like it could have come from no other state than the USSR. Though the recording is dim, gray, and boxy, the integrity and sincerity of the performances more than compensate for the limited sonics.

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