Symphony No. 1 in G Minor, op. 13 "Winter Dreams"
Images pour orchestre
Michael Tilson Thomas
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Deutsche Grammophon, 1971. 80'50"
Somebody at Deutsche Grammophon should be commended: this is one of the most intelligent and compelling releases to appear in the "Originals" series so far. Michael Tilson Thomas' recording of Tchaikovsky's First Symphony was long regarded as the best for its "balletic" treatment of the score. And indeed there is an element of danceability in his tempos as well as an irresistibly natural flow in his handling of transitions. This is especially the case in the Finale, where so many conductors get tripped up by the extreme contrasts between its somber and excited passages. Thomas makes the dreamy second movement sound like a soulful lullaby, aided not a little by the Boston Symphony's rich-textured string playing.
Conductor and orchestra partner each other with an intimacy and spontaneity that yields even greater results in Debussy's Images. Here Boston's French pedigree is on proud display as the orchestra produces -- particularly in La parfums de la nuit -- the most exquisite shadings of Debussy's delicate colors. Thomas feels this score's pulse and conducts with synaptic-like effortlessness. The naturally balanced analog recordings reproduce finely in this current edition but point up the unfortunate tendency to over-brightness that was Deutsche Grammophon's preference in the 1970s. [8/9/2000]
--Victor Carr, ClassicsToday.com
This is an extremely welcome release for fans of Michael Tilson Thomas: the first CD appearance of a legendary recording with the Boston Symphony he made (as its new assistant conductor) in March 1970. At that point (still only in his mid-20s), Tilson Thomas was becoming notorious for introducing provocative new music by the likes of Steve Reich, but he was also stirring up a rather moribund classical music scene. Just imagine the ethos in those days, when talk of the demise of the symphony orchestra as an absurd irrelevance was gloomier even than it is now: in rushed MTT with a super-infusion of excitement and confidence to rouse the players--and the audience. MTT was already proving his deep affinity with Russian composers (which would be followed many years later by his enormously successful accounts of Prokofiev and Stravinsky).
This is, in fact, one of the finest readings on record of Tchaikovsky's First Symphony (subtitled, with greater programmatic élan than usual, Winter Dreams), lushly expansive in its reveries (the veiled beauty of the slow movement as it unfolds its mournful folk song) but also crisp and pointed, dramatically tense, and featuring sinewy balances of wind, brass, and strings. The Tchaikovsky is worth the price of purchase itself, but the CD also includes a bracing vision of Debussy's Images. MTT's view of this sonic triptych shows a rhythmic vigor that will overturn stereotypes of vague, amorphous "impressionism" (a labeling Debussy, of course, always detested). At midprice, this is a must-have for your collection.