Drawing out Tchaikovsky’s poetic streak

Andris Nelsons asserts an impressive influence over the CBSO’s interpretation of two of Tchaikovsky’s masterpieces

Composer: Tchaikovsky
Repertoire: Symphony No. 6, ‘Pathétique’; Romeo and Juliet 
Artists: City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Andris Nelsons
Rating:  4/5
Genre: Orchestral
Label: Orfeo C 832 101 A

The Music: Romeo and Juliet, Tchaikovsky’s ‘fantasy-overture’ based on Shakespeare’s play, was one of his first masterpieces. The Sixth Symphony was his last: Tchaikovsky conducted its premiere just nine days before his sudden and unexpected death. 

The Performance: Nelsons and the CBSO respond to the ‘Pathétique’ symphony’s mood of fate-shrouded tragedy in a way that’s lyrical rather than melodramatic. The last ounce of ferocity required in those fearsome first-movement climaxes isn’t quite there; and the tempo for the Adagio finale seems a shade too quick to convey the music’s desolation. But there are thrilling moments: the march-like third movement crackles along with impressive momentum and firepower. Romeo and Juliet benefits much from Nelsons’s emphasis on Tchaikovsky’s poetic streak, too. 

The Verdict: Even among the formidable recorded competition, the CBSO’s classy, supple playing is a major asset, reflecting Nelson’s impressive influence. Want more? For a fierier way with Tchaikovsky, Antonio Pappano conducts Rome’s Santa Cecilia Orchestra in both pieces on EMI (631 8112 & 370 0652).