TCHAIKOVSKY: The Storm, Op. 76; Fatum, Op. 77; The Voyevoda, Op. 78; Overture in F major (1865). Moscow Symphony Orchestra, Veronika Dudarova conducting. Melodiya/Angel SR-40271, $6.98.
TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 1 in G minor, Op. 13 ("Winter Daydreams"). New Philharmonia Orchestra, Riccardo Muti cond. Angel S-37114, $6.98.
It seems the Muscovites have had among them for some years a woman conductor whom they have neither canonized nor put in a freak show nor surrounded with documentaries and other promotional hoopla, but simply entrusted with one of their major orchestras. Her recording debut, and apparently that of her orchestra, too, in the West, is a package of what must be the four least familiar orchestral pieces by one of the best-loved orchestral composers; one of the four works, in fact, is making its own first appearance on records.
A little sorting out is required before proceeding to the performances themselves. Despite the misleading opus numbers assigned to the posthumously published Fatum and The Storm , they are both very early works, the latter a student piece composed a year earlier than the Overture in F. The Voyevoda , which is a very late work (1890-91), must not be confused with Tchaikovsky's first opera, which bears the same title; the tone poem is based on Pushkin's translation of a poem by Mickiewicz, the opera on a totally unrelated drama by Ostrovsky - another of whose plays inspired both The Storm and Janacek's opera Kata Kabanova.
Veronika Dudarova, now 60, seems to be a very competent conductor, if one with an extremely relaxed approach to music whose essential ingredient is dramatic excitement. Her handling of Fatum eliminates the element of ferocity altogether, and leaves us with what seems a pleasant but overlong fantasy on folk-dance themes. The Storm is a different sort of piece, more evocative than activated, but in this, too, despite some lovely phrasing, Dudarova's drawn-out treatment leaves no tension at all to sustain the loose structure.
The Voyevoda goes much better, and so does the previously unrecorded Overture in F. The latter, though, happens to be a thoroughly characterless work, which only the most encyclopedically devoted Tchaikovskian is likely to want in his collection. The recording is quite good, but the orchestra really is not; the horns in particular, with their extremely saxy tone, are a trial.
The three more substantial on several other records during the last two or three years. Antal Dorati and the National Symphony have given us a good Vopevoda in one of their Tchaikovsky packages (together with a splendid Hamlet and Francesca de Rimini , London CS-6841), and a Fatum regrettably spoiled by being brokes for turnover (sandwiched between Romeo and Juliet and The Tempest on London CS-6891).
Eliahu Inbal and his Frankfurt Radio Orchestra duplicate Dudarova's program on Philips 6500.467, but substitute The Tempest, a really superior work, for the Overture on F. Both the playing and the recorded sound are of a very high order. (There is a little nomenclatural confusion in the labeling, in which The Tempest is given its German title, Der Sturm , and The Storm is listed as Das Grewitter. )
Even more attractive than Inbal's performances, I think are Othmar Maga's of Opp. 76, 77 and 78 with the Bochum Symphony Orchestra on Vox STPL-513.460. There is no fourth work on that disc, but Maga's feeling for Fatum and The Storm, especially, strikes me as extraordinary, his little-known orchestra does itself proud, the sound is first-rate, and the record costs only about half as much as Inbal's.
When Tchaikovsky decided not to publish The Storm, he reused some of its material in the lovely slow movement of his First Symphony, the work chosen for Riccardo Muti's second symphonic recording. Up to now, Muti has recorded a somewhat controversial Aida and Ballo , a most excellent Cherubini D-minor Requiem, and only one disc without voice, the Scotch Symphony and overture Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage of Mendelssohn.
The Mendelssohn was quite appealing, if without the unique magic Peter Maag distilled from that symphony on London, and now the Tchaikovsky is similarly attractive in its own right, but again without the enlivening force of a Markevitch, Dorati or Bernstein. Muti's recording is encoded in the SQ quadraphonic matrix system, which will affect some choices among quadro enthusiasts; the interpretation of tidiness rather than much in the way of real enjoyment on the conductor's part. Among currently available versions, Dorati's, in his recently reissued set of Tchaikovsky's three early symphonies (Mercury SR13-77009), seems the most persuasive of all.