Evgeny Svetlanov

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 4; Fatum; Capriccio Italien

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In many, maybe even most ways, these recordings by Evgeny Svetlanov and the USSR Symphony Orchestra are the epitome of Soviet performance practice in the latter years of the twentieth century. The winds are characterful but less then completely cohesive. The strings are sentimental but more than slightly out of tune. The brass are forceful but so far past assertive that they are near to flat-out aggressive. And Svetlanov himself is more than willing to bend tempos, more than willing to exaggerate dynamics, and much more than willing to add several tablespoons of sticky-sweet emotionalism to the Symphony's already schmaltzy interpretations.

But since Svetlanov and the USSR Symphony are performing Tchaikovsky, none of that is entirely inappropriate. After all, Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4 is itself characterful, sentimental, forceful, and far less than completely coherent, and Svetlanov and the USSR Symphony performs it as if hand-wringing hysteria was an interpretive stance. Similarly, Tchaikovsky's symphonic poem Fatum is itself a way-over-the-top piece of orchestral neurosis and Svetlanov and the USSR Symphony perform it as if on the edge of a nervous breakdown. And finally, even while Tchaikovsky's light and lovely Capriccio Italien may itself be a charming piece of musical pictography, Svetlanov and the USSR Symphony's extremely colorful and dynamic performance fits the music. The sound is likewise the epitome of Soviet recording technology: hard, harsh, and belligerent.

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