Russian Romanticism in music appeals to me on nearly every elemental level of my being, so it’s always seemed odd to me that I tend to have a hit-or-miss reaction to the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. There is some of his music that just leaves me kind of cold (the 1812 Overture); there’s other music of his that appeals to me on a basic level but leaves me wanting something with more substance (the Piano Concerto #1). And then…there is the music where he hits, and in these cases, the music has a startlingly deep emotional impact on me. The Nutcracker falls into this category, among others, but by far, my favorite work of Tchaikovsky’s is his Symphony #5.
Like many Russian symphonies, this one is cyclical, with melodies from the first movement returning for a glorious flowering in the final movement after appearing in insistent, almost unwelcome, form in the second and third. Lyricism triumphs throughout, but what always engages me in long Russian symphonies like this isn’t even so much the raw lyricism as the logic that is applied to it, a sense that the final triumph, long delayed, reaches a point in that fourth movement where you can just feel it pushing its way through.
Here is the entire Symphony No. 5 by Tchaikovsky, in a wonderful performance by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leonard Bernstein. Once again I am struck by how Bernstein was so my kind of conductor. I hate it when conductors don’t look like the music they are conducting is making them feel anything; Bernstein shows that the music is making him feel everything.
Must admit being a sucker for 1812 (one of the first classical pieces I recognized). But my favorite Tchaikovsky is Symphony #5.