Deemed by the composer himself as one of his greatest compositions, Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony was written in the wake of his very brief, failed marriage, the ensuing depression, and his own struggles with his homosexuality. Complete with the cyclical use of the "Fate" motive announced by the brass fanfare, the symphony is one of his most tragic, aggressive works, though not as bleak as the Finale of the Sixth Symphony.
As for the CD at hand, it would seem that the Philadelphia Orchestra has the market somewhat cornered on exceptional recordings of this symphony. Following in the very fine example given by the orchestra under the direction of Riccardo Muti, Christoph Eschenbach leads this brilliantly mastered SACD version on the Ondine label. As has been the case of the Philadelphia Orchestra since its very first recordings, one of the first things listeners will notice is the robust, powerful sound from the string section. The intensity is matched by crisp, piercing brass playing and well-blended winds. Eschenbach's choice of tempos does more to exemplify the frequent shifts that Tchaikovsky calls for in the score than Muti; this provides for an even more turbulent and obviously programmatic angle to the performance. After the grandeur and bravura of the symphony, the six movements of The Seasons, Op. 37b, for solo piano performed by Eschenbach seem somewhat of a bland and uninspiring way to end the album. Perhaps it would have been better to open with the Seasons and end with the bang of the symphony.