Why I do not hate Tchaikovsky

Pierre Boulez once famously declared:"I hate Tchaikovsky and I will not conduct him... but if the audience wants him, it can have him". But much that I admire Boulez I have to disagree with him this time. There are many reasons why I do not hate Tchaikovsky, and Warner's new reissue of André Previn's 1970s recordings of the three great ballets is one of them. Tchaikovsky's ballets fit André Previn's style of music making like a glove, the recordings were made in the mellifluous acoustics of the Kingsway Hall (Nutcracker and Swan Lake) and Abbey Road Studio 1 (Sleeping Beauty) by the legendary EMI production team of Christopher Bishop and Christopher Parker, and the sound on these latest CD transfers simply confirms that as technology has advanced, so recorded sound quality has gone backwards.

When Previn's Sleeping Beauty was first transferred to CD by EMI two numbers were cut so that it would fit onto 2 CDs. Somebody at Warner Classics cares, because these cuts have been reinstated and the ballet is now spread over 3 CDs, and fortuitously the 7 CD format means there are no side breaks in any of three ballets' acts. At the time the recordings were first issued EMI's artwork creation came under my management, and it is pleasing that the evocative jugendstil-style artwork by the Native American artist Dick Ellescas for the original LPs of the ballets has been retained, although he is not credited. The icing on this Christmas cake are the violin solos in the first act of Swan Lake which are played by Ida Haendel, who was drafted in at short notice as substitute for the nominated LSO soloist.

Warner Classics' acquisition of the EMI catalogue in 2013 was viewed cynically by many commentators, however this budget reissue is in a different class to the usual corporate back catalogue whoring. It is also worth noting that the 20 CD box of Zuzana Růžičková playing J.S. Bach: The Complete Keyboard Works, a release that has been lavishly praised by one of Warner's universal (Universal?) naysayers, comes from the company's Erato sub-label. Thank you Warner Classics for bringing some much-needed light into a very dark 2016 and for proving the experts wrong. Best wishes for the festive season go to all my readers.

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Philip Amos said…
This post and the linked ones brought a tangle of thoughts to my mind. I don't 'hate' any composer and, though perhaps I am somehow deficient here, I don't understand how one could. If a composer is not my cuppa, he/she is simply disregarded as such (and I do have a beef with Milton Babbitt (--:). Britten was a master-hater of composers. Puccini was one, but he also said that he disliked looking for books about himself because they were likely to be next to those on Brahms, another he hated. Baffling to me.

As it happens, I just yesterday listened to Monteux's recordings of Tchaikovsky's symphonies 3-5. Magnifique. There is a neglected conductor for a start. The cover of the Previn disc is a wonder, and credit to you for that, Bob. I also very much liked the photograph of Boult on the Suite No. 3 disc. Your mention of those great producers in the posts took me right back to 1960, the year I first put in a regular order for (the now in effect defunct) Gramophone magazine.

The neglect of Boult and ignorance of how great was his range frankly infuriates me. He seems to be still regarded as a sort of 'house' conductor, on tap for anything but of no great consequence. I much suspect Solomon was similarly treated by record labels in the 30s and 40s, and similarly Moiseiwitsch. Both came to be much more highly regarded abroad, which is the key. Britain long neglected its own musicians, HMV often recording them on the domestic plum label, and many have still been neglected recently: the late Tod Handley!. In a different context, the neglect of Ida Haendel, still playing wondrously, is another very sad story.

It has been a relief to me that the EMI catalogue, which I can access in total via the Naxos Music Library, seems to be largely left intact by Warner, though there are missing recordings, to be sure. I am immensely grateful for that. And ever grateful for your posts, Bob. I wish you a fine holiday season and a fine new year.
Pliable said…
Yes Philip, the Tchaikovsky symphonies have been remarkably well served on record. Yevgeny Mravinsky's 1960 account of the Fourth with the Leningrad Philharmonic is a stunner. Although I am not a huge fan of Lorin Maazel, his cycle of the symphonies with the Vienna Philharmonic is among my favourites, partly because of the stunning Decca analogue sound.

Interestingly Tchaikovsky's Fourth produced one of the few disappointments from Sir John Barbirolli. His account, which perversely was reissued in the EMI JB Great Recordings box, descends into an impassioned frenzy.

Warner are indeed doing a good job. So good that I am almost able to forgive them for Joyce DiDonato.

Pliable said…
Diane Bennett O'Callaghan shared this post on Facebook with the following comment:

Every Sunday morning, my mother would put on Tchaikovsky symphonies (loudly) on the huge old Capehart, one of the first "record changers." Then she would curl up in a chair with her coca-cola, and Lord Byron's poems - her aim was to set them to Tchaikovsky's music. Often, the Capehart would decide it had, had-enough, and would throw one of the records across the room to shatter on the tile floor...I've overfed on the Swan, the Nutcracker, and what my tenor father used to call "Slipping Butty-" but I still like the symphonies- (don't know what came of the poems...) Thanks for the Memories!!

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