Currentzis seems to shock and awe with each new release. I had been eagerly anticipating this Tchaikovsky release, having been exposed to the conductor’s introspective rendition of the Violin Concerto with Patricia Kopatchinskaja. Surprisingly, this performance of the Pathetique doesn’t shock -always in a positive way- with its idiosyncrasies (there are only a few), but amazes with its vision and strong sense of purpose. Everything here seems spot on.
It will be difficult to return to other recordings after Currentzis’s performance.
The first movement has a sense of urgency without sounding rushed. The sense of momentum is not to be found in the tempi but in the sharp, precise attacks. The main difference with the other recordings is the unique clarity of texture. Listen, for example, to the first orchestral outburst at around 10:12 in the first movement. The force of attack of the cello and basses and their stormy interplay has rarely been captured so vividly. The playing of the orchestra, MusicAeterna, is impeccable. The first movement climax is also performed dramatically, ideally paced. What is, however, a nice surprise is the detailed string tremolando in the background, right after the climax, and the effective accelerando of the theme that follows.
Distinguished playing also characterises the second and third movements. The scherzo especially has a certain weight where every choice seems wise: the moderate tempo, the weighty horns the rhythmic pulse giving gravitas to this playful music.
However, it is in the finale where Currentzis excels. Without being dramatic, he treats the final movement with seriousness and determination: if played lightly, one is aware of the odd movement structure of the work (let’s not forget the fact that the first movement alone is twice as long as the last). Not here: under Currentzis’s baton, the fourth movement is weighty and meaningful. There are a few things done differently which may raise an eyebrow. Much emphasis is put on the repetitive sizzling effect of the horns in the final reappearance of the main theme, more so than any other performance. This is not a cathartic vision yet: there is pain and anguish. As for the final minutes, the stubbing of the brooding bass in the background, insists rhythmically, as if signalling a funeral procession.
Other performances might highlight the finale as a personal statement. In this new performance, this final movement has a universal appeal: it is the human grief for an unavoidable ending.
It will be difficult to return to other recordings after Currentzis’s performance. This is perhaps one of the very few, select recordings that remind us of the great drive of Mravinsky in this repertoire. Highly recommended and a possible new benchmark.
Tchaikovsky, Symphony 6
Teodor Currentzis (conductor) / MusicAeterna
Photo: Alisa Calipso for Malina