Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5; Schumann: Piano Concerto

Ferenc Fricsay

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Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5; Schumann: Piano Concerto Review

by Mike D. Brownell

In a way, this album celebrates the anniversary of an anniversary. The first work on the program, Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony, was recorded live in 1957 to commemorate the 10th year of the Radio Symphony Orchestra Berlin (now the German Symphony Orchestra). The release of this CD comes 50 years later, marking 60 years of history and exceptional music-making. After 10 years, the RSO proves to be a fine-tuned machine and Ferenc Fricsay's energetic and detail-oriented leadership of the orchestra shines through brilliantly in the Tchaikovsky. This remastered recording is especially dynamic and captures all of the details and nuance of the original performance. So driven and vibrant are the outer movements of the symphony that listeners are unlikely to mind the occasional instances where the orchestra issues more power than the recording technology of the day could handle. The recording of Schumann's Piano Concerto is quite a different story. Made six years earlier, the younger orchestra had not quite come into its own, and the precision and meticulousness of the Tchaikovsky is not yet present. Seventy-four-year-old pianist Alfred Cortot is also not heard at his peak here. Tempos are wandering and ambling and there are frequent errors in his playing, many more than might be excused in the name of musical expression. Still, this recording of the Tchaikovsky is one of the most successful and captivating in memory; it alone makes this album a worthy choice.

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