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TCHAIKOVSKY Symphonies Nos. 4 and 6, Yuri Botnari, MPO

February 23, 2021 | By Jerry Dubins

In February 2021, the Royal Music Society has released all Symphonies by Tchaikovsky, performed by the MPO under Maestro Yuri Botnari.

Here is what critics have to say about the recordings.

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



Colleague Colin Clarke beat me to the punch on this one with a review posted to the magazine’s online “Not to be Missed” column. I had previously reviewed Yuri Bornari’s Tchaikovsky First with the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra in 43:1, and was so taken with it that I was more than eager to review this latest release in Botnari’s Tchaikovsky cycle. In 43:2, colleague Daniel Morrison also reviewed the Tchaikovsky First, and found it as persuasive and recommendable as I did.

After Clarke’s extended and most wonderful review of Botnari’s Tchaikovsky Fourth and Sixth, I’m not sure what I can add that wouldn’t simply be redundant. But let me touch on one thing that may be implicit in Clarke’s review but not explicitly stated. It isn’t only that Botnari captures the tenor and tone of these two scores to perfection, with exquisite attention to details of orchestral weighting and balance, to the shaping and shading of the long line, and to the moment-to-moment nuances of phrasing, dynamics, articulation, and management of string vibrato. All of that would be more than enough to make these readings among the more revelatory and compelling of any committed to record.

But there is something more. The orchestra itself undergoes a change of character from the Fourth Symphony to the Sixth. It’s the same Moscow Philharmonic in both works, yet somehow, it’s not the same; it takes on two different personalities, each of them a reflection of the music’s unique ethos. The Fourth Symphony—Man vs. Fate, Man triumphs in the end, but not without paying a terrible price. The Sixth Symphony—Fate calls in its chits, Fate is the final victor.

This may seem too simplistic a reduction of the moral messages and warnings carried by these two symphonies, but actually it’s not. The Fourth is universal Man against Fate, Mankind with a capital “M,” the never-ending struggle of the species in the face of adversity, tragedy, and seemingly insurmountable odds. Humanity perseveres and prevails, at least in the short run, but the victory is never permanent. The Fourth is Tchaikovsky projecting outward to describe the plight of Everyman. The Sixth is the personal man against Fate, man with a lowercase “m,” the individual’s adversity and tragedy. The Sixth is Tchaikovsky looking inward to come to terms with himself and his place in the grand scheme of things. The symphony doesn’t end happily, as everyone knows, but I believe it does end with the composer reconciled to and accepting what was meant to be.

It’s a common error, sown by Romantic writers, I believe, that Tchaikovsky was deflated, depressed, and suicidal upon completing the Sixth Symphony. In a letter to his brother Modest, Tchaikovsky expressed his belief that the new symphony was his best work yet. Nor did he expire immediately upon its completion at the end of August 1893. He lived to lead the first performance in St. Petersburg on October 28, 1893, and only died nine days later, on November 6, 1893, the cause of death long alleged to have been cholera contracted from drinking infected water at a local restaurant. That diagnosis has never been proved one way or another, nor has the Romantic notion that if it was cholera that did him in, he suicided by infecting himself deliberately. If you were determined to off yourself, that would be an odd method to choose for carrying out the deed, especially since the infection couldn’t be guaranteed to be fatal.

The “Pathétique” wasn’t even Tchaikovsky’s last work. Between the time of completing the score and waiting for its premiere, he arranged the first movement of a symphony in E? Major he’d begun working on before the “Pathétique” into the one-movement Third Piano Concerto, suggesting the strong likelihood that Tchaikovsky did not consider himself spent and done after completing the Sixth Symphony.

I said above that the Moscow Philharmonic takes on a different persona for each of the two symphonies. In the Fourth, there’s assertiveness and defiance in the physical quality of the sound, and it’s not just due to the character of the music; it’s in the sonic image that the orchestra projects. In the Sixth, there’s a lessening of the resolute quality of the sound. With acceptance comes the ability to yield.

Again, this is above and beyond the momentary emotional states conveyed by the music and the specific instructions vis-à-vis phrasing, dynamics, and articulation that Botnari communicates to the players. It has to do with a patina that overlays the soma of the orchestra. Hear it for yourself and see if you don’t agree. This, in addition to all of the wondrous details of execution and interpretation documented by Colin in his review, places these performances of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth and Sixth Symphonies in the category of “very special.”

CD is available on Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Pyotr-Ilyich-Tchaikovsky-Symphonies-Pathétique/dp/B08W7DK8RK/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=Yuri Botnari CD&qid=1614104945&sr=8-1

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins

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