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Piotr Illich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) Symphony No. 4 In F Minor

Op. 36 Pierre Monteux, Conductor Boston Symphony Orchestra JVC XRCD24 24-Bit Super Analog CD (JM-XR24015)

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1877 was one of the most tumultuous years in the life of the Russian composer, Peter Tchaikovsky. A homosexual in an intolerant age, Tchaikovsky was working on his Symphony No. 4 when he entered into a matrimony with an infatuating female pupil, the only marriage he would ever have in his life. The tragic effect of their subsequent separation nine months later was cushioned considerably by the composer‘s fateful rendezvous with the wealthy, 46-year-old widow patroness Nadezhda von Meck a year before, who not only compensated the composer’s separated but never divorced wife, but also supported the composer so that he could compose full-time.

The composer developed fondness for the patroness through years of letter exchanges; yet they agreed never to meet. The widow’s earlier letter to Tchaikovsky stated that:

“There was a time when I was very anxious to make your acquaintance; but now, the more you fascinate me, the more I fear your acquaintanceship. I prefer to think of you from afar, to hear you speak in your music and share your feelings through it.”

It was to this remarkable woman that Tchaikovsky dedicated the Symphony.

Symphony No. 4 is infused with unprecedented lamentations of the composer’s personal emotions, intensity of which escalates gradually through each movement, to eminent passion within the last movement.

The first of the impassioned composer’s trio of latter, “heavy” symphonies, the No. 4 began with insisting and remorseful brasses in a powerful proclamation of the beginning of a storytelling. The lyric melody conquers easily and is to return to sustain the intensity of emotion throughout the first movement. Then comes the amazing second movement. What begins as a tuneful cello and viola communion for the first minute or so makes way for an unexpectedly harmonious and memorable theme to emerge. A whole 8 minutes of beautiful music is simply not enough. This is arguably Tchaikovsky’s most fluidic composition.

Scherzo, the 3rd movement, on the other hand, offers a cup of tea of different flavor to those who can’t live without Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker but also believe that they simply have had too much of it from all the Christmas’. Another 5 minute or so gone too swiftly. As for the 4th movement, what a Finale it is. It carries so much of the original genius of the Symphony Pathetique, its deep-reaching prowess will leave such a mark on you during its nearly 9 minutes of playing, you will want to submerge yourself in the No. 6
quickly before the mood dissipates.

Monsieur Pierre Monteux and the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s studio recording of Peter Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 was completed on January 29, 1959 for RCA; but the world did not get to hear it until it was released in March 1960, four years prior to the conductor’s death in the summer of 1964 at 89 years old. With no subsequent re-release in the catalog, it again remained unavailable throughout the ensuing decades until this JVC XRCD24 release in 2004. And what a gross oversight it has been, for in a world of interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s No. 4 that continues to be dominated by non-Russian readings, this re-release strikes me as surprisingly Russian.

The 1st and 2nd movements were from the same take as evident in the 5 second or so of recess between the movements, while the 3rd and the 4th were from another take in the similar fashion. Two distinct moods are evident from each take that bode extremely well with the listener as the Symphony progresses, when the first two movements of andante’s of sorts attempt to communicate the melancholy that was most heavy on Tchaikovsky’s mind, then alleviated and released afterwards by the considerably more festive and jollier “Scherzo” and “Finale”.

This reading is a testimony on how a French conductor could bring out not merely the passion in the music, but also with a rather contagious and subliminal control of varying intensity. It is also a testimony on why a matured and seasoned conductor is always preferred in mustering interpretation of a consummating work of a young composer. If you consider Tchaikovsky’s Pathetque No. 6 his most monumental and towering among his Symphonies, you will find the 85-year-old Monteux’s No. 4 miraculously delicious in its unworldly, younger, and convincingly authentic sensibility.

The element utilized in this remastering went beyond the proprietary K2 Technology and XRCD24 processing: JVC utilized a custom-built 3-channel analog playback system for the remastering of the original master tape, which was recorded originally on a 3-channel tape recorder owned by Marlboro School of Music, Inc. in 1959.

ORIGINAL ANALOG TAPE PLAYER 3-CHANNEL ANALOG TAPE
PLAYBACK HEAD

The result is a modern sounding recording carried by one of the most advanced Redbook CDs in existence, as channel separation of the JVC disc rivals that in any other audiophile grade production, with a resolution that is simply unheard of considering the vintage. This XRCD24 ‘s timbre portrayal is hugely competitive to many recordings of the day, as exchanges among woodwinds such as clarinet, oboe, bassoon and flute are rich in palettes of sonorities audiophiles can readily appreciate.

Although this remade vintage concedes to the fluidity and smoothness of the likes of DSD-originated discs, such as Philips’ 2002 release (Philips 478 617-2) of the hybrid SACD Dvorak: Symphonies 8 & 9, and Deutsche Grammophon’s 2003 DSD re-master of Carlos Kleiber’s 1975 recording of the Beethoven Symphony No. 5 & 7 (DG 471 630-2), in by itself, the JVC XRCD24 goes far beyond simply making an old vintage sounding more acceptable.

Background tape hiss is all but gone, so much so that one can make out the continuity of takes between the movements, creating a truly high fidelity enjoyment of a monumental, 1959 recording for the first time. Also, a far cry from other “Living Stereo” releases of recordings of the same era, this XRCD24 exhibits an absolute absence of sound bit dropouts, and stability of the stereophonic effect, plus equally excellent image focus, suggest that the recording appears to have been made recently.

This XRCD falls short in a persistence of two residual sonic aspects of the “Living Presence” series of CDs. When played through the Tannoy Churchill Wideband speakers with the 15-inch Dual-Concentric™ driver design, a bloating of images, an effect similar to objects in a photo being inspected with a magnifier, occurred. Alternatively, the effect is not as striking when used with all other speakers, including the extremely resolving Audio Note AN-E SEC Silver, which recreated appreciably 3-dimensional instruments and a rather spacious soundstage.

The second relic of the “Living Presence” sound is a concession of dynamics at certain points in only the violins’ playing and nowhere else, sounding noticeably compressed only during unisons of fortissimos at the upper ranges, at the same time degrading in dimensionality momentarily to the point of near mono. Away from those moments, the violins become detailed, layered and smooth.

For an occasionally nostalgic person like me who enviously and frequently look to the 50s and 60s, release of this caliber assures me of a musical living that will again be infused with extraordinary substance from the artistry of giants from bygone days.

If only Monteux had lived to this day to witness his work of art sounding so fantastic.
Review System:

47 Laboratory 4704 PiTracer CD transport with two Power Humpties
Harmonix Reimyo DAP-777 20bitK2 DAC
Harmonix Reimyo CAT-777 preamplifier
Harmonix Reimyo PAT-777 300B power amplifier
Audio Note AN-E SEC Silver speakers

Via Audio Note Sogon digital cable, Sogon interconnects, AN-Vx interconnects,
AN-SPx speaker cable, Harmonix Reimyo Studio Master AC cords.

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