Tchaikovsky's First Symphony is a weak, uncharacteristic early work, while his Sixth is a strong, mature masterpiece, but in these 2008 performances with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Vladimir Jurowski's take on them is exactly backwards. For the First Symphony, "Winter Daydreams," Jurowski creates a powerful, fast-moving, and eventful opening movement that defies the composer's Allegro tranquillo tempo indication, followed by an ardent Adagio cantabile, a lusty Scherzo, and a Finale with plenty of vim, vigor, and verve. For the Sixth, the "Pathétique," he devises a performance that is truly pathetic. The "hero" of Jurowski's reading is sick unto death in the opening Adagio, barely recovers enough strength in the ensuing Allegro non troppo to whisper softly of love and strife, and falls back into lethargy in the Allegro con grazia. He rants without leaving his deathbed in the Allegro molto vivace, sinks into a fevered coma in the closing Adagio lamentoso, and ultimately expires with barely a sigh.
It's not that Jurowski's reading of the "Pathétique" isn't convincing in its way, but like his "Winter Daydreams," it ignores not only the score's indications, but also a century of performing tradition. Making a stronger work of the First Symphony is a good thing, but making a weaker work of the Sixth is not, no matter how brilliantly it is executed, and Jurowski and the London musicians do brilliantly execute these works. The Philharmonic sounds here like a first-rank virtuoso orchestra that really cares about the music and the intentions of the conductor. Jurowski, with his detailed but highly dramatic accounts, is clearly a conductor worth caring about. If only his interpretation of the Sixth was his good as the First! Recorded in Royal Festival Hall at live concerts, the digital sound is clean, deep, and evocative.