Michael Tilson Thomas / San Francisco Symphony

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5; Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture

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One of the most popular classical works of all time, Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 in E minor is also one of the most frequently played and recorded, which makes it difficult to choose an exceptional performance out of so many contenders. Fortunately, this 2015 hybrid SACD by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony offers one of the more exciting and terrific sounding live renditions available, so even the most jaded listener can appreciate this symphony with new ears. A conscientious and meticulous conductor, Tilson Thomas has taken great pains to get sonorities and shadings as close as possible to Tchaikovsky's written intentions, and there is no worry of excessive emoting or distortions of the music for questionable programmatic effects. For listeners who have had enough of the usual Romantic posturing, this Fifth has a detailed and lucid presentation that is preferable to the murky textures and dull expressions one often hears elsewhere. In spite of the symphony's many bombastic passages, and they are unavoidable, Tilson Thomas draws out much elegance and beauty, and strikes a balance between the work's forced drama and its genuinely poignant lyricism. The symphony is backed with the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture, which is equally popular and quite complementary to the symphony in its turbulent moods and extraordinary melodies.

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