Tchaikovsky's final finished symphony, premiered only days before his death in 1893. Bernstein was at the tail end of his career when this CD was recorded and he liked to take unconventional approaches to the standard repertoire during that time of his life. In the case of this symphony, he takes everything very slow, bringing out the depth and emotion of the work and, in the process, makes Tchaikovsky sound a little like Mahler (another Bernstein favorite). Some listeners can't stand the slower tempi and therefore miss the beauty that Bernstein brings out in this pieces, particularly the attention paid to the inner voices. The final movement is simply stunning.
Thanks to the hard work of the archivists/librarians at the NY Philharmonic, you can follow the music along the orchestra's actual score with markings from the conductors over the years. It's a fun interactive experience. Check out the NY Phil score by clicking the photo below.
Personal Memory Associated with this CD: (shared with Brahms - Symphony No. 1) In the late '80s or very early '90s, my friend Eddie and I were driving in his car listening to a cassette of this recording. I think he may have recently seen Bernstein conduct the work and told me all about that as we discussed the work in general and the interpretation in general. Even at the time I knew there weren't many young adults in their early 20's that did things like that. I picked up this CD not long after that. [note: Eddie confirms that he did indeed see Bernstein conduct the work in New York during August 1986, just before this recording was made. Eddie also recalled for me the story of meeting a drunk Bernstein backstage following the concert.]
During my freshman year in college, I took a music survey course simply titled "Music Literature." During that course, the self-important professor played the second movement of this symphony and asked the class if anyone could tell him the time signature (correct answer: 5/4). After listening, students (including myself) guessed various answers and the smug prof never gave any indication if any of our answers were correct. He turned off the recording and moved on to the next topic. Confused, my hand shot up and asked, "Well what's the right answer?" to which he replied, "Why don't you find out and tell all of us next time we meet?" That was frustrating, but I was a good boy, did what I was told and brought the answer to the next class. By handling my question in that manner, I'm sure the professor thought he was empowering me to search for my own answers. Unfortunately, all it did was discourage me from asking any more questions in his class (which might have been his goal all along). Whatever his motive, it was a horrible teaching method and, despite what he thought of himself, he was a sub-par teacher.
Previously revisited for the blog:
1812 Overture, Romeo & Juliet, The Nutcracker Suite (1987)
The Tempest/Der Sturm, Op. 18 & Symphony No. 2, Op. 17 (1985)