Tuesday, April 19, 2011

CD Odyssey Disc 265: Tchaikovsky

It is a constant struggle right now to find time to blog (my book writing time is completely out the window - but I am driven ever onward by my desire for new music in the car.

Here we return to that rarest of islands in the CD Odyssey's archipelago - classical.

Disc 265 is...Tchaikovsky Box Set Disc 3 (of 5)
Artist: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Year of Release: Music from 1840-1893

What’s Up With The Cover?: The last two times I wrote about Tchaikovsky I eschewed the cover for a handsome portrait of the fellow (see my last review of him back at Disc 132 to take a look). This time you get the album cover which also has a small portrait of him featured. This cover is boring and utilitarian but it as a nice clean look to it that says, "I am a man of learning, sir!" Or something like that. I guess I like it well enough.

How I Came To Know It: As I've noted in previous reviews on this box set, I got into Tchaikovsky back in University, and he remains a favourite composer in a genre I explore very little.

How It Stacks Up: I only have this 5 CD Tchaikovsky box set, although it covers a lot of music (about 400 minutes or so). This one I liked less than the first two volumes, but it wasn't bad.

Rating: 4 stars.

I don't have much to add about Tchaikovsky - I love his bombast and how he weaves an intricate melody throughout that bombast, but I won't pretend to be wiser than I am in the workings of classical music.

In fact, I recently watched a PBS show that dissected exactly how Beethoven's 5th symphony worked, including why it is pleasing to the ear. The show was a full hour, and only covered the first of four movements (to get the other three you had to order the DVD of course).

I found the show fascinating, and it has added a whole other depth of understanding to classical music construction. Mostly, though, it has just shown me just how little I know.

This is fine though - the number one rule of music is to know what you like, and approach it with an open heart. OK, that's two rules, but you get the idea.

This album features three smaller pieces of music, "None But the Lonely Heart", "Marche slave Op. 31" and the fantasy overture "Romeo and Juliet", and one complete symphony, "No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74."

Still awake? OK - because there are some gems in that list of uninspiring song titles, chief among them "Marche slave" which is one of those pieces that is so ultra-famous the moment you hear it you'll remember having heard it a thousand times.

It is a song that conjures up danger and majestic action sequences, and I'm sure it has been used as such in many a film. It is what Howard Shore wishes he could write if he weren't busy converting his theme music from "Gangs of New York" for use on "Lord of the Rings" (listen to them both and tell me I'm wrong).

Anyway, much as I enjoy Howard Shore scores, there's a reason we are still listening to Tchaikovsky over a hundred years after his death, and "Marche slave" will remind you exactly why if you give it 9:34 of your undivided attention.

The other gem on this record is the "Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture". This song ranges from tender and sweet, to tragic and dangerous and does so with a pacing so perfect, you don't notice unless you're sitting there looking for it (which would make for a great part of a future PBS special).

My favourite memory of this piece is through a former Shakespeare prof I had. He was passionate for Shakespeare as seen through the lens of a series of psychological character studies. His lectures infuriated some, but I found the passion he brought to the classroom both fascinating and inspiring.

One day he was in full throat about Shakespeare's amazing ability to capture emotion, how it could never be equalled or interpreted when he stopped and interjected to himself - 'except Tchaikovsky's interpretation of Romeo and Juliet of course." He then proceeded to wax poetic about this piece of music for a while with the same zeal he would usually use to detract from any latter day interpretation of said play. It was awesome, and if I've botched the actual memory of the lesson, I certainly remember his passion for this piece of music. I'm also sure it influenced my decision to buy this boxed set.

The disappointment on this particular disc is "Symphony No. 6". It is competent enough, but there are large stretches where it loses me. In previous reviews I am sure you will remember me singing the praises of "Serenade in C Major", "Symphony No. 4 in F Minor" and to a lesser degree, "Symphony No. 5 in E Minor" (who could forget those salient moments in the CD Odyssey!) "Symphony No. 6" just didn't hit me the same way. I can't say why, but it just wasn't the same emotional impact of previous Tchaikovsky symphonies.

Nevertheless, this has been an enjoyable couple of days returning to Tchaikovsky's music, and renewing my acquaintance with his greatness.

Best tracks: Marche slave, Romeo and Juliet

No comments: