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Yuri Botnari, Tchaikovsky Symphonies 4 & 6

November 8, 2019 | By Colin Clarke

TCHAIKOVSKY Symphonies Nos. 4 and 6 • Yuri Botnari, cond; Moscow PO • ROYAL MUSIC SOCIETY 6423465001391 (92:41) Reviewed from an mp3 download: 320 Kpbs. Download available from iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, CDBaby, and Google 

Tchaikovsky: Symphonies Nos. 4 and 6
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Yuri Botnari was assistant to Gennady Rozhdestvensky from 1998 to 2002, sealing his association with the Moscow PO in 2003, of which he is a Guest Conductor. He studied first with the legendary Ilya Mussin in Leningrad, and later with both Rozhdestvensky and Yuri Simonov in Moscow. My colleague Jerry Dubins’s enthusiasm for Botnari’s Tchaikovsky First with this orchestra (Fanfare 43:1) makes me itch to hear it. (It is personally a favorite symphony, and deserves more advocacy. Daniel Morrison pretty much echoed Dubins’s sentiments in a review published in the very next issue). Happily, the Sixth here, part of this complete symphony cycle, clearly continues the trend for excellence, with the Moscow orchestra being receptive to Botnari’s expansive way with this magnificent score. The sheer expressivity of the performance here is remarkable. It is worth noting it takes real musical intelligence and musical integrity to bring off performances such as these. 

The opening Andante sostenuto holds the most perfect legato from the strings, with textures beautifully balanced. Recorded detail is astonishing, as is the placing of the instruments in the sound picture. Botnari understands the central role of firm rhythmic control in Tchaikovsky. The music refuses to push forwards in this introduction, and remains all the more powerful for it. The control of atmosphere before the onslaught of the main body of the movement is likewise remarkable, and the steady tread of the first movement’s final moments compelling. There is grace to the Allegro con grazia; there is radiance to the strings, and a sense of dreamlike dance underpins the movement. The woodwind are nicely placed, not too far forward (and certainly not spotlit) which adds to the sense of experiencing a performance rather than a studio recording. Detail is fabulous, from quiet string comments and fabulously caught pizzicato to burnished, well-blended brass chords. The Allegro molto vivace, though, moves towards the incendiary; note how the violins’ highest regions are beautifully caught, never scrawny, never harsh. The finale, Adagio lamentoso, sighs beautifully, the phrases aiming towards the skies—no Bernstein extremes here (it is over in less than 10 minutes), but another aspect of the piece. The fragmented phrases of the first few minutes seem like slowed-down heartbeats, something we re-experience, even more tellingly, towards the movement’s end down in the orchestra’s engine room. Botnari finds the radiance at 2:37 as the music blossoms outwards; when those heartbeats return towards the end it is if the wheel of life is turning, slowly, inexorably; mere humans are only offered a final outbreath. Magnificent; you might find, as I did, a need for a break before hearing any more music. 

The Fourth is just as impressive. Notably it is perhaps the subtleties, the dance-like shiftings, of the first movement, that are most impressive, despite the undeniable emotional force of the opening. The descending scales raining down from woodwind and brass against strings (the descending scale that permeates the last three symphonies) carry a very particular annunciatory weight, saying perhaps that there is no escape from one’s own Fate. A special mention is due for the clarinet and bassoon principals of the Moscow Philharmonic, so expressive in their solos, the reedy bassoon with its soupçon of vibrato being entirely characteristic of its region of origin. Botnari’s pacing again is superb, shaping the passage around seven minutes in with its timpani underpinning with an iron sense of pulse. When we hear the Fate motif of this symphony (the fanfare), it carries huge weight. Brass vibrato is in evidence, which for this writer just points to the local color: It is expressively and tastefully used. Similarly, the oboe at the start of the Andantino in modo di canzona has that region-specific, slightly acidic edge, which actually emphasizes the textural contrast with the burnished statement of the theme on cellos that follows on immediately. Botnari’s reluctance to rush anything again pays huge dividends here, with the music affectionately given.

That splendid recorded sound comes to the fore in the famous pizzicato strings-only section of the third movement—magnificently present, spread over the whole sound stage, And, again, that iron control pays huge dividends in the woodwind riposte, taken steadily (and how the piccolo makes its point, while the clarinets intriguingly bring a touch of the circus). The finale explodes in a blaze of light, if not quite as luminous Szell’s famously incendiary LSO account (September 1962, with John Culshaw as Producer: One needs industrial-strength sunglasses for that one). The sheer weight of the lower brass, tolling under swirling strings that contain not a hint of the studio, offer a visceral, edge-of-the-seat experience. 

Wizened old reviewers like myself might think they do not need another coupling of these old warhorses. Collectors, wizened or not, may well feel the same. How wrong I was, at least. Botnari gifts us fabulous performances of the highest order, in sterling sound.  Colin Clarke

Recording released by the Royal Music Society, Executive Producer: Cristina Botnari



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