There are several reasons why I don’t like Tchaikovsky. The first one is a bit silly and absolutely not his fault, but his Russian name Пётр Ильи́ч Чайко́вский has been transcribed into several different European languages in a different spelling, so trying to search for him in any kind of database or streaming service is an absolute nightmare.
The second reasons is that in general, Tchaikovsky is either “too much” in the sense that 1 pancake in the morning makes you want more, 4 and you already feel a bit stuffed, and 9 as I’ve been served in some US hotels just makes you want to run away. This is the occasional Tchaikovsky, let’s take his unfortunately totally overplayed piano concerto for example. Just can’t hear that thing any more. Even the Violin Concerto, that i kind of like, has some moments where less would be more.
I’ve tried all Tchaikovsky symphonies several times, and none of them speak to me in any way (the one exception will be mentioned below). To be fair, I haven’t really tried his operas yet, I’m still a bit hesitant when I don’t understand a word of what is being sung in an opera, makes the enjoyment harder.
There are exceptions within his oeuvre that I like, I on (rare) occasions listen to his ballets, which have some magical melodies, the first movement of the string serenade is kitsch, but beautiful, and obviously his Violin Concerto played by Jascha Heifetz (or Julia Fischer) is kind of special.
By the way, I strongly recommend you read a biography about Tchaikovky’s life, he surely didn’t have an easy one. Closet homosexual (one suspects), suffering from regular depression, died of Cholera (could have been a suicide), etc. etc. Your regular soap opera doesn’t get as dramatic as that. (EDIT: please check out the responses to this thread, it seems like some of this is inaccurate according to latest research).
Symphony No. 5 e-minor
So what is different about symphony no. 5? I don’t know really, it is really the overall character of this symphony in the dramatic and sad key of e-minor.
It basically starts out as kind of funeral march, and somehow is linked mentally to Beethoven’s 5th (I suppose no composer could ever write a fifth symphony without thinking of the famous “original”, and you hear influences e.g. in Mahler’s 5th as well. Some speculate even there’s a reason why Brahms stopped at 4). I also plays around with th notion of fate, a familiar motive within the symphony
There is something weird about the ending. Tchaikovsky himself considered it failed. I don’t care at all, this symphony really draws me in, and keeps my attention until the end. Tons of emotions again, but unlike after 9 pancakes, you don’t feel stuffed (exhausted maybe instead)
Estonia is a weird place. 1.3m in habitants, but it is the birthplace of an entire outstanding family of excellent conductors, with Neeme, Kristjan, and Paavo, and also the home of Arvo Pärt, one of the most important contemporary composers.
I’m a big fan of most of Paavo’s playing, especially his recordings with the Kammerphilharmonie Bremen. More about that later. But this is about his dad, Neeme. While Neeme never had any formal ties with any of the grand old orchestras in Berlin, Vienna, or New York, his work with smaller ensembles like the Gothenburg Symphony or the Royal Scottish National Orchestra contain many hidden gems.
This recording is one of them. Very well recorded (the Swedish label BIS is usually excellent at this), the smaller Gothenburg Orchestra and Järvi’s conducting give it a nice transparency, but still you get the full dose of emotions. Tradition says that Russian symphonies are best played by Russian conductors and orchestras, and while there are good examples for this (e.g. Mravinsky), these two neighbouring countries (Estonia and Sweden) do just fine for my ears.
Overall rating: 5 stars (meaning I don’t think you could play the symphony any better than this. Not meaning these 5 stars mean as much to me as e.g. Bach’s b-minor mass)
Side note: You can download it here from BIS’ own download shop, E-classical. What I really like about this shop that you are not obliged to buy entire albums, you can just buy individual tracks, and this is exactly what I did, I only went for the symphony, so cannot really comment on the two other works that were bundled on this album.