"Pathétique": “Tchaikovsky's symphonic swan song”
Many new recordings of Tchaikovsky's symphonic works have been springing up recently. Mikhail Pletnev, for instance, is currently working on a new complete set of recordings, and the Sixth Symphony, the Pathétique, is now available in three recent releases by Christopher Poppen, Dmitri Kitaenko, and Charles Mackerras, who passed away a year ago. All very different recordings.
The first difference can be found simply in the choice of tempo: “Allegro non troppo” - fast, but not too fast - is Tchaikovsky's marking for the first movement (after a slow introduction). But how should this sound?
Poppen and the German Radio Philharmonic Orchestra Saarbrücken take the movement at a relatively brisk pace, whereas Kitaenko interprets it in a distinctly slower way, more oppressive and melancholic, darker – this is how the Cologne Gürzenich Orchestra plays this opening movement. Mackerras and the Philharmonia Orchestra take the middle line here.
Is there ever an ideal path? Not really. All three recordings are very different in many regards, and even so, or perhaps as a result, all merit closer attention. Poppen and Kitaenko and their orchestras are currently in the middle of Tchaikovsky cycles, recording his complete symphonic oeuvre. In Mackerras' case, the recording is taken from a concert performance in February 2009 in London. (…)
The differences really come to a head in the third movement. Kitaenko allows the music to bubble up passionately over the foundation of a warm, flowing and yet transparent sound. A master feat through dark abysses. Once again Poppen is the polar opposite: his Tchaikovsky is flooded with light, and agile, but without a trace of melancholy or black despair. As a result he appears a shade too calculating. (…)
The Kitaenko recording of this movement (the third – Ed.) is at the very least its equal, an emphatic interpretation of Tchaikovsky's symphonic swan song!
Christoph Vratz, NDR, 10 August, 2011