TCHAIKOVSKY:  Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36.  Francesca da Rimini, Op. 32.
Bamberg Symphony Orch/JosČ Serebrier, cond.

BIS CD 1273 (F) (DDD)  TT:  70:20

Given the abundance (OK, the glut) of Tchaik Fourths on disc, I'm somewhat bewildered by JosČ Serebrier's wish to add another version with an orchestra of less than world-class caliber, for all its prewar-II history as the German Philharmonic of Prague, and the subsequent maintenance of standards during more than four decades at Bamberg before the reunification of Germany. This is a faithful, painstaking, unhectic performance without ever becoming soft or manneristic, even if the pizzicato sostenuto Scherzo is taken a shade slower than the latter-day Olympic sprints we've become accustomed to. The second movement, however, which is usually an ordeal for me to sit through, is beautifully shaped and absorbing, with a solo clarinetist who deserved a credit line.

Francesca da Rimini, composed a year earlier (both are products associated with Pyotr Ilyich's ill-begotten marriage, along with the Violin Concerto) is a more ingratiating work—for one thing shorter, with fewer sequences to squirm through once the music has been assimilated (i.e., heard twice). And Serebrier conducts it with tenderness, not to suggest that he stints on outbursts of romantic passion.

I was surprised to find these performances on Swedish-based BIS, along with a jacket advisory that Serebrier led the major orchestral works of Kodály on that label several years ago, judging by the disc number, those with the Brno State and Baden-Baden SWF orchestras (he has always been a master conductor of Czech music). The recorded sound both of Tchaik staples (from February 2000 and 2001) is welcomely natural, and Serebrier's program notes are both enlightening and admirably articulate.

The more I listen the more I like CD-1273 (at the same time confessing that if I never hear either piece again, death will not have deprived me).

R.D. (May 2002)