Christoph Eschenbach / Philadelphia Orchestra

Tchaikovsky: Romeo and Juliet; String Serenade; Francesca da Rimini; Victor Ewald: Brass Quintets Nos. 1 & 3

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The three works by Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky that Christoph Eschenbach and the Philadelphia Orchestra perform on this Ondine twofer are usually found as filler pieces on other albums, often coupled with one or another of the symphonies or concertos, so this combination is a bit out of the ordinary. The fantasy overture Romeo and Juliet and the symphonic fantasy Francesca da Rimini are often paired and work fairly well together because of the similarity of their stormy Romantic music and tragic subjects, even though Romeo and Juliet is plainly the superior piece of the two. But the Serenade for strings is possibly Tchaikovsky's most Classically balanced work, and it stands in stark contrast to the other selections for its cool beauty and elegance. Indeed, the presence of this piece between Romeo and Juliet and Francesca da Rimini inadvertently points up their bombastic qualities and makes them seem quite a bit less polished as compositions when compared to the refined Serenade, despite their unassailable status as popular classics. Eschenbach and the Philadelphians turn in excellent renditions of each, so the musical quality is high and the listener may choose these live performances with confidence. The remaining works on the program by Victor Ewald will be less familiar to orchestra fans, but aficionados of chamber music for brass will know the Brass Quintets No. 1 and No. 3 quite well, and their Russian-flavored themes and late Romantic expressions fit well thematically with Tchaikovsky's music. The brass players from the Philadelphia Orchestra play with vitality and luminous sound, so these two performances will please any who take the trouble to explore the album beyond the three Tchaikovsky offerings.

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