Antonio Pappano

Tchaikovsky: Symphony Nos. 4, 5 & 6 "Pathétique"

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If you're caught in a tight spot and desperately need a set of Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky's last three symphonies, then this double-disc from EMI may work as a quick fix. But if you need an exceptional recording of these works to last longer than one hearing (say, for the rest of your life), then skip this live twofer altogether, because its mediocre sound quality is sure to disappoint, and the performances, while decent, offer little compensation for the defects. In the best of times, one must be wary of EMI's reproduction because the tone quality can range from clear to muted to muffled, and certain audio "gremlins" can be obstacles to enjoyment. On this all-digital set by Antonio Pappano and the Orchestra of Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, the sound is afflicted by electronic distortion in several spots, and the volume at various points throughout seems unnaturally manipulated in mixing, making the orchestra's true dynamics hard discern. Add to this the unavoidable audience noises and what seems like someone humming along in soft spots and the package seems even less desirable. Yet these flaws would matter less if Pappano and his ensemble had something fresh to offer or if the interpretations weren't so close to standard-issue performances. But these readings sound like any major orchestra's recordings from the modern era, so it makes little sense to get this set when others of similar musical quality -- and some also include the underrated symphonies No. 1, No. 2, and No. 3 -- offer much better sound and value.

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