After a very good Tchaikovsky Fifth symphony and a so-so Fourth, Christoph Eschenbach and the Philadelphia Orchestra have hit a home run with the Pathétique. Like the previous editions in this cycle, this is a large-scale performance with movement durations somewhat longer than the norm. But this in no way suggests slackness on Eschenbach's part, for his is a taut and tense reading, infused with drama and passion. The first-movement development releases tremendous energy without becoming maudlin, but the biggest climax comes at the second subject's reprise, where Eschenbach milks the big tune for all its expressive power. Afterward the scherzo trips along lightly in its 5/4 meter.
The Philadelphia Orchestra plays superbly: this is the finest and most expressive playing on disc since Bernstein's enthralling (and sprawling) 1986 version with the New York Philharmonic. Philadelphia's hallmarks are all present: rich, singing strings, biting brass, and vibrant woodwinds. The percussion is excellent too--listen to the bold timpani playing in the magnificently rendered march-scherzo third movement. The finale captivates at Eschenbach's slow pace. This, along with his unapologetic evocation of the music's dark emotions, makes the ending truly tragic.
Tchaikovsky's fiery and dramatic Dumka makes a nice foil for the preceding symphony (not that you really need one), and Eschenbach demonstrates his virtuoso piano technique in this stirring reading. The recording sports high impact and wide dynamic range in both CD and SACD formats. An excellent disc, with performances that will make fans of the Ormandy/Philadelphia versions feel right at home. --Victor Carr Jr
Tchaikovsky: Symphony #6 In B Minor, Op. 74, "Pathétique" - 1. Adagio, Allegro Non Troppo
Tchaikovsky: Symphony #6 In B Minor, Op. 74, "Pathétique" - 2. Allegro Con Grazia
Tchaikovsky: Symphony #6 In B Minor, Op. 74, "Pathétique" - 3. Allegro Molto Vivace
Tchaikovsky: Symphony #6 In B Minor, Op. 74, "Pathétique" - 4. Finale: Adagio Lamentoso,