San Francisco Symphony / Michael Tilson Thomas

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4 (Companion Concert Recording)

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In this live 2002 recording, Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony have done just about all one could ask to make the best possible argument for Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony. Tilson Thomas' interpretation is vigorously dramatic in the opening movement, delicately lyrical in the slow movement, delightfully balletic in the scherzo, and rousingly exciting in the closing movement. The orchestra plays with its typical suavely blended tone in the central movements, but with a slightly rougher and brawnier tone in the outer movements, as is appropriate for the music. The performance no doubt ranks with the best of Western recordings of the work. While there is one last thing one could ask from the conductor and orchestra, it is apparently not within their power to grant it, and that is a belief in the inherent quality of the symphony itself. Instead of the terror, consolation, and release that mark the great Russian performances of the work by, for example, Yevgeny Mravinsky and the Leningrad Philharmonic, here there is merely a superbly performed orchestral exercise with plenty of panache and pizzazz. The live digital sound is vivid but somewhat recessed.

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