Samuel Friedmann / Russian Philharmonic Orchestra

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No.2; Romeo and Juliet

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True to form, this Arte Nova recording of the Symphony No. 2 in C minor, Op. 17, and the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture matches the other discs in Samuel Friedmann's Tchaikovsky cycle for technical competence and expressive coherence, though this may not be the first one listeners try. The Symphony No. 2, nicknamed "Little Russian" for its extensive use of Ukrainian folk themes, is one of Tchaikovsky's least performed symphonies, and it has suffered in competition with the regularly programmed Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth symphonies, whose popularity is due in no small part to their bigger-than-life emotions and quasi-autobiographical qualities. The more objective Second has Tchaikovsky's characteristically infectious melodies, brilliant orchestration, and taut developmental style; but its emotional temperature is much lower than one might expect of this arch-Romantic, and the handling of the folk material is cool-headed and clever. As a result, this is a symphony that people who normally resist Tchaikovsky in his bombastic or histrionic moods might find more to their liking. Certainly, Friedmann and the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra do their best to make this piece bright, charming, and memorable, and the performance is vivacious and energetic, with very little time spent on brooding or storming about. The same cannot be said of the turbulent Romeo and Juliet, which Friedmann and company deliver with heaviness and pugnacity, so it provides a dark contrast to the symphony, as well as helping fill up the disc's rather short playing time. Arte Nova's sound is generally good, though in places it lacks presence and focus.

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