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Tchaikovsky Symphony 1

February 23, 2021 | By Daniel Morrison

TCHAIKOVSKY Symphony No. 1 Yuri Botnari, cond; Moscow PO RMS 10046 (43:22)

The name of conductor Yuri Botnari was new to me, but he has solid credentials. He is a graduate of the Moscow Conservatory, where he studied with Gennady Rozhdestvensky and Yuri Simonov, another prominent Russian conductor. He is currently the Principal Conductor of the Barcelona Philharmonic Orchestra in Spain and Laureate Conductor of the Moscow Philharmonic. He also heads an organization called the Royal Music Society, which unlike what one would expect apparently has no British connection. It does have an extensive catalog of recordings, many by Botnari himself and also by Simonov and various other artists, which like the one under review are available via streaming or download from such platforms as Amazon, Apple Music, Deezer, Spotify, iTunes, Yandex, and CD Baby.


Tchaikovsky’s once-underrated Symphony No. 1 has garnered greater appreciation in recent years, and deservedly so, for it is a delightfully evocative and colorful work. Its subtitle “Zimnie grëzy” is translated variously as “Winter Dreams,” “Winter Daydreams,” or “Winter Reveries.” The Russian word allows for all of those meanings. Some conductors, such as Igor Markevitch (Philips), Vladimir Jurowski (LPO), and Fabien Sevitzky, in the 1946 recording I reviewed in the previous issue (Pristine), opt for maximum urgency and drive in the first movement. Botnari, perhaps mindful of the marking of Allegro tranquillo and the subtitle “Dreams of a Winter Journey” borne by the movement, favors a more relaxed approach. His timing of 12:54, versus 10:52 for Markevitch, 11:19 for Jurowski, and 11:13 for Sevitzky, is in fact the longest among the 11 performances I have available for comparison, but I don’t think anyone is likely to find his reading lacking in forward movement. With a sensitively shaped lyrical flow in the dreamy episodes and incisive, strongly defined rhythm in the more assertive ones, his interpretation has a balletic quality, reminding me of the fact that this movement, and, if I recall correctly, other parts of the symphony as well, are used in the ballet Snegurochka (The Snow Maiden), along with incidental music Tchaikovsky wrote for the Aleksandr Ostrovsky play of the same name. The clear and precise articulation is especially beneficial in the development section, and the expansive tempo allows the listener to savor the details of the score. Climaxes are skillfully built so as to seem self-generated. The slow movement is beautifully realized. Here the pacing is middle-of-the-pack, neither especially quick, like Sevitzky or Markevitch, nor especially drawn out, like Herbert von Karajan (DG), Leonard Slatkin (RCA), Valery Gergiev (LSO Live), or Mstislav Rostropovich (EMI/Warner). In place of Sevitzky’s passion and urgency we get a sense of serenity and enchantment that is eventually engulfed by a powerful climax. Tchaikovsky’s colorful writing for winds is especially delightful in this rendition. The Scherzo movement is notable for its broadly paced, rapturous, and very balletic treatment of the Trio section—one can almost visualize a pas de deux being danced to it. The slow introduction to the finale, drawn out and brooding, meets its specification of Andante lugubre, while the main section is excitingly driven, with clarity of texture and careful balancing of parts in evidence in both sections. Throughout the performance the Moscow Philharmonic shows itself to be a quality ensemble, playing with precision, spirit, and luminous, colorful tone.

While this recording is available only via streaming or download, I reviewed it from a CD supplied by the producers. The sound of the CD was excellent: vivid, open, spacious, and detailed, with a wide dynamic range.

https://smile.amazon.com/Pyotr-Ilyich-Tchaikovsky-Symphony-Winter/dp/B08VXC1PTV/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=Yuri Botnari CD&qid=1614104872&sr=8-2

In all, this is a thoroughly persuasive realization of Tchaikovsky’s earliest but far from negligible symphony and an easily recommendable one. I look forward to hearing more from this conductor.

FANFARE: Daniel Morrison

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