Saturday, April 30, 2011

Karl Böhm – Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony F Minor op. 36

One of most versatile composers of romantic era was Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (in Russian – Пётр Ильич Чайковский) who was developing symphonic music just as surpassing Brahms’ achievements and opening perspectives for post-romantic emotionalism manifest later in symphonies composed by Dvorak, Bruckner and Mahler. It is hard to overrate his symphonies worth, even if he is well known for different forms and genres. And it is characteristic, his style is very personal in every genre and work, in symphonies or songs, compositions for piano or ballets, operas or religious music, and despite of early works his music is always touched by his own, idiomatic and almost intimate emotions. His attitude towards classical forms was very modern, free from dichotomy between nationalistic romanticism represented by group of five composers called Moguchaya kuchka (Russian – Могучая кучка) and on the other side a group cosmopolitan academic composers continuing composing in the manner of German classical school. It is interesting he remained in good relation with both sides of the stylistic conflict Mily Balakirev and Anton Rubinstein.
He perceive classical forms as an almost neutral container for emotional expression. Tchaikovsky’s six symphonies mark composer’s way to establish his own equilibrium of classical forms and individual emotions. After testing and exposing his approach in first three symphonies, in fourth he began series of great works which represent grandiose synthesis of contradicted traditions. Sublime of Russian imperial culture and ideas of Western European music braided in Tchaikovsky’s 4th, 5th, 6th and in Manfred Symphony, gave composer position of one of the greatest composers in nineteen century. His highly elevated, romantic solution became turning point in the history of Russian culture. Despite of this Tchaikovsky has been accused as too much cosmopolite by ideologists of communistic regime, who by the way were in many cases zealous followers of Russian nationalistic ideas.

Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony in Karl Böhm Ausgabe

Searching for solution of creative dilemmas, Pyotr Tchaikovsky created Symphony No. 4 F Minor op. 36 in four part form which setup is straightforward reference to constructions of Beethoven’s late symphonies. The narrative mode of constructing symphonic work descends from pre-romantic symphonic style of late Beethoven and Schubert, but most influential were depictive-programmatic symphonic works Liszt and Berlioz. There also some clear reflections of Russian heritage. Wide almost vocal phrase in Andantino could be seen as idiomatic for Russian style. Pizzicato ostinato in Scherzo sounds just like Russian balalaika. In final Allegro con fuoco Tchaikovsky incorporated as a refrain theme folk song In the Field Stood a Birch Tree (originally – Во поле берёза стояла). All this let him save national character of this work, achieving the highest volume of emotional amplitude.
On this equilibrium is based interesting recording of Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony made in 1978 by Karl Böhm with London Symphony Orchestra. Probably most disciplined orchestra in Europe with charismatically consequent and moderate, arbitrary exacting conductor made this work very classical in emotional balance and structural construction. Maybe this rendition is not as much dramatic as Gennady Rozhdestvensky’s interpretation with Ministry of Culture Symphony Orchestra, for sure it is not so much lyrical as it was Igor Markevitch’s recording with LSO. Böhm is reading Symphony F Minor somewhere between solemn pathos and virtuoso glitter. And he is deadly consequent. Narrative gesture and wide emotional span makes this vision closer to Bruckner’s academicism than any composer of Russian romanticism.

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