Tchaikovsky: Symphonies Nos. 4, 5, 6

Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra / Herbert von Karajan

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Tchaikovsky: Symphonies Nos. 4, 5, 6 Review

by James Leonard

Back in the 1960s, a complete cycle of the symphonies of Tchaikovsky meant the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth symphonies. So when Herbert von Karajan recorded the Fourth and Fifth in 1965 to go along with his Sixth from 1964, everybody figured he'd said all that he had to say on the subject of Tchaikovsky's symphonies and said it as well as he could ever hope to say it. And despite going on to record all six of Tchaikovsky's symphonies in the 1970s, Karajan had actually said all he had to say and said it as well as he could ever hope to say because his 1960s performances still retain the authority of unyielding law. The firmness of Karajan's 1965 Fourth and the spectacular virtuosity of the Berlin Philharmonic, the epic reiterations of his 1965 Fifth and his unswerving momentum to the last note of the last movement, the trajectory of his 1964 Sixth from the despair of the opening to the suicide of its close: in all of these things, the Berlin Philharmonic less performs the music than embodies Karajan's inflexible will. The original stereo sound of these performances was amazing in its day and Deutsche Grammophon has magnificently re-mastered it.

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