Déjà Review: this review was first published in April 2005 and the recording is still available.

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
Symphony No. 5 in E Minor Op. 64 (1888)
The Voyevoda – Symphonic Ballade, Op. 78 (1891)
Capriccio italien, Op. 45 (1880)
Gothenberg Symphony Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
rec. 2002/2004, Gothenberg Concert Hall, Sweden

Neeme Järvi and his Gothenberg Symphony Orchestra, now carrying the epithet “The National Orchestra of Sweden”, are in the process of recording a complete cycle of the Tchaikovsky Symphonies. I have no idea what has happened to Serebrier’s cycle with the Bambergers, but this Gothenberg cycle seems to have taken over. From BIS’s point of view this seems to make better sense. This conductor/orchestra partnership is far better known to the collector, and I suppose the technical team doesn’t have to travel to Germany each time BIS wish to issue another disc.

BIS are issuing each symphony with substantial couplings, making each release extremely good value. Add to this the SACD format, in the stunning acoustic of the Gothenberg Concert Hall and I can’t see many SACD enthusiasts being disappointed. Having got that out of the way, more importantly, how do the performances on this disc stack up against the competition? This is currently in the form of Gergiev and the Vienna Philharmonic on Philips. Their Fifth Symphony is terminally marred by some idiot who wishes to be able to say “it was me who started cheering before the symphony finished – wasn’t I clever!” Well, no, since each time I play it, good though it is, I cringe as the coda comes up, making the disc almost impossible to listen to. If you are not affected by this as I am, the actual performance with Gergiev, I would rate slightly better than Järvi but only slightly. But that cheering, although well deserved, totally turns me off for domestic listening.

In the symphony, Jarvi gets under way gently, which I find rather disturbing, as it is not a particularly gentle work. The adrenaline does start to pump, but later than I would have liked. By the time we reach the middle of the first movement all is going well, but the excitement should have started a little sooner. Maybe a different take was responsible for this feeling, but I must stress that it mine is of course a personal reaction; you may not feel as I do. This is not to complain about the playing, which is well up to the normal Gothenberg standard.

To hear a really up-front performance of this movement, you might like to try any of the following: Mravinsky/DG, Matacic/Supraphon or Jansons/Chandos.

The fill-ups are excellent, with excitement fully to the fore – in fact the Capriccio Italien is magnificent, and the BIS recording deals with the enormous dynamic range very well indeed. It was a nice idea to include the relatively unknown Voyevoda as this makes the disc all the more attractive to the inquisitive collector. This is played in typical Järvi manner: direct, and very exciting.

BIS are to be congratulated on this issue, combining as it does popular and not so well known pieces, excellently played and stunningly recorded. Very highly recommended for both the standard of playing and of engineering.

John Phillips

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