Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Library Book Sale CD Trove X

Still reviewing my CD finds from half-price day at the Friends of the Multnomah County Library Annual Booksale.

Tchaikovsky: Symphonies #2 & #4
Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra

Tchaikovsky is a strange figure in the pantheon of classical music. If you want to be a real classical music intellectual, you can't afford to take him too seriously. He's a little too clumsy, a little too transparent, a little too heart-on-sleeve. Or, maybe a lot too heart-on-sleeve.

This always seems to stress out the writers of liner notes. They feel compelled to signal that they are in the know about Tchaikovsky's limitations even while they are being paid to praise the product. The notes on this Naxos recording, for instance, begin:
Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky must be regarded as the most popular of all Russian composers, his music offering certain obvious, superficial attractions in its melodies and in the richness of its orchestral colouring. There is more to Tchaikovsky than this, and it would be a mistake to neglect his achievement because of what sometimes seems to be an excess of popular attention.
It's hard to imagine any other musician, of any genre, being treated quite so dismissively in his own marketing materials. It begs the questions: if Tchaikovsky is so superficial and obvious, how come he gets to occupy one of the limited number of spots available for Household Name Composers? It is hard to explain without recourse to a fairly radical theory of his compositions, which is this: most of them sound really cool. They have obvious attractions in their melodies, and rich orchestral coloring, and this, over the years, has continued to attract a great deal of popular attention. They are, in a word, good.

I've been fond of Tchaikovsky's symphonies since I was a little kid, and the Second and Fourth are two of my four favorites. Out of the, um, six. I had recordings of both of them already, but my other recording of the Second isn't very good and the Fourth is worth having two interpretations of. Like most Naxos CDs, this is a first-class recording by a might-as-well-be-first-class orchestra. Amazon has some copies for three bucks and shipping, which is not bad at all. I'm happy as a clam to have got my copy for a buck fifty.


DrSchnell said...

I never understood the snooty aversion to the big T-man by the classical music cogitaters out there. Since when is catchy melody in music a "superficial attraction?" It's like literary critics who disdain anything that stoops to the pedestrian device of plot. He IS big, bombastic, melodramatic, over-emotive, heart-on-the-sleevey. Yes! That's the point! I know he's manipulating me while listening (and playing) and hooray for that! He's goddamned great at it! He's one composer who can predictably create a visceral physical emotional reaction in me (if not actual weepiness, then certainly waves of emotional something-or-other, chills up and down the spine, etc. etc.). If people don't like that, well, go listen to yer intellectual jibberjabber. I'll take Tchaikovsky anyday. And the 4th Symphony, well, it don't get much finer than that.

Ben said...

Hear, hear, DrSchnell!