RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR
The smaller scale tells not in lack of impact but the reverse. When trombones and bass drum make telling entrances in the outer movements, you know about it
Peter Quantrill admires Pablo Heras-Casado’s classy account of Tchaikovsky’s First Symphony,
which so vividly places the work in its post-Mendelssohn, pre-Brahms context
Tchaikovsky Symphony No 1, ‘Winter Daydreams’, Op 13. The Tempest, Op 18 Orchestra of St Luke’s / Pablo Heras-Casado Harmonia Mundi F HMC90 2220 (68’ • DDD)
Victoria, Monteverdi, Carter, Boulez and a great deal in between: Pablo Heras-Casado is one of those conductors, not common in any generation, who dine further afield than the meat-and-potatoes repertoire offered by most of his colleagues. The work he does has its place and time. A sense of place in the Winter Daydreams Symphony – a rattling sleigh, a misty steppe and so on – is well provided for on record, and if you’re familiar with a piece generally underrated on account of certain weaknesses in the finale, your tastes may embrace, moving from East to West, Golovanov, Smetá∂ek, Karajan, Rostropovich, Jurowski (both with the LPO) and Tilson Thomas.
In their different ways, all these conductors convey the sense of a distinctively Russian composer taking his first steps, some confident, some faltering, in a genre hitherto foreign to his tradition. The context of its time, however, the 1866-ness of the piece, is more elusive, and here Heras-Casado brings a special alertness to the pointing of phrase and building of form
6 GRAMOPHONE RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR 2017
Pablo Heras-Casado brings a special alertness to the pointing of phrase and building of form that makes sense of what the composer’s brother Modest tells us about the works’s difficult birth, a decade before Brahms finally produced his own First Symphony. For astutely chosen exemplars, Tchaikovsky would play through the Italian Symphony of Mendelssohn and the Spring Symphony of Schumann.
This is hardly the first recording to bring Mendelssohnian deftness to the Scherzo and the waltz-Trio (and to imagine the influence working spookily in reverse, listen to the second movement of Mendelssohn’s Lobgesang in Heras-Casado’s recording with the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra), but the thinning out of the Scherzo to a few solo voices – like guests drifting away from the Act 3 ball of Eugene Onegin – is so characteristic of both composers. It is achieved here with an intimacy that comes naturally to chamber orchestras, rather than as one of those sudden hushes implied by the kind of ‘now, children, let’s be quiet as mice’ gestures sometimes seen on the podium,
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