It’s good to have Tchaikovsky’s ‘Little Russian’ and ‘Polish’ Symphonies coupled together, relative Cinderellas, certainly when compared to the ubiquitous Four to Six. Even better when these performances are so good, Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic doing these splendid pieces proud.
Symphony 2 opens arrestingly with a nice scrunchy fortissimo chord and ripe horn solo; a communicative bassoon continues the lyrical entreaty, and bit by bit the impending Allegro is built towards with potency, and when it arrives it’s a cracker, played incisively and conducted with leeway for poetic contrasts, tension maintained throughout, and some theatre encouraged through fluid tempos and dramatic emphases as well as instrumental clarity, woodwinds and brass breaking through as befits the immediacy of the Royal Festival Hall (thankfully, no fake reverb is added, which has happened on this label). The Andantino marziale that follows is enjoyably jaunty, and also not without pathos, and the Scherzo is propulsive and airily textured, the Trio piping rustically. Grandeur introduces the Finale, and athletic strides continue it, military brass and percussion aiding and abetting advancement, but Tchaikovsky is not one to abandon his fondness for emotional folksong. Jurowski keeps the music on course, without regimenting it, and he ensures that a passage sometimes cut (by Previn, for example, LSO/RCA), featuring an impish piccolo, is left intact; there’s a drawbridge-opening gong-stroke too.
The five-movement ‘Polish’ is just as successful, full of incident and dynamism, paced ideally whatever the tempo or their relationships, the first movement especially trenchant, soulful and scintillating, played with relish and, contrapuntally, benefitting from Jurowski’s use of antiphonal violins. The 'Alla tedesca' and elegiac Andante that follow gain from Jurowski keeping things on the move, the former buoyant, the latter having the Andante marking respected without denuding its heartfelt character, expressively blooming in its concluding third. Following a sparkling, gossamer-light Scherzo (with its quirky trombone tune), the nickname-giving Finale, a Polonaise, is here a mix of ceremony and certainty of arrival, and when the coda is reached it is majestic then animated (no applause, whereas it greets the end of No.2).
Heard on their own terms, these performances are excellent and enjoyable, bypassing comparisons.