While anyone with ears to hear could tell that Valery Gergeiv's interpretation of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4 is the most fully re-imagined and the most thoroughly thought-through interpretation in decades, that still doesn't mean Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4 is any good. While anyone with ears to hear could tell that the colors shine with a brighter brilliance, that lines glow with an inner intensity, that the rhythms move with a relentless inevitability, that the dramatic structures proceed with purposeful determination, that still doesn't mean that Tchaikovsky's Fourth is any good. And while even a deaf man could tell that the Vienna Philharmonic plays with its customary ineffable virtuosity and Philips' sound is still among the cleanest, the warmest, and the most realistic in the world, that still doesn't mean Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4 is any good. Because for all the intelligence, the imagination, and the passion that Gergiev and the Vienna Philharmonic bring to the music, Tchaikovsky's Fourth still sounds like a symphony on the edge of a nervous breakdown, a symphony whose hysterical themes, histrionic developments, excessive orchestrations, and unrestrained banality express the quintessence of incipient dementia.
For a performance of Tchaikovsky's Fourth that makes it sound like a great symphony, try Yevgeny Mravinsky's with the Leningrad Philharmonic on Deutsche Grammophon. From the opening blast of the brass through surging climaxes, tender idylls, ebullient intermezzos, and boisterous dances, Mravinsky, the iron man of Leningrad, strong-arms the Fourth into acting like a great symphony. And, amazingly enough, it does.