The crown jewel of music performance venues in Detroit is Orchestra Hall, the anchor of the Max M. Fisher Center. It is the home of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and the acoustics of the hall are simply world-class. You can choose your seat based on the view you would like, but the music sounds fantastic from every seat in the house. In recent years the orchestra has made some wonderful live recordings. In 2013, Music Director Leonard Slatkin led the DSO in a series of concerts comprising a Beethoven Festival. This series included all of the Beethoven symphonies, and were made into a digital cycle available through a service called Instant Encore. Fans of classical music can argue for hours about which is their favorite collection of Beethoven symphonies, but no matter how many you have, there is always room for one more. The DSO sounds great in these live recordings, and it is well worth a listen.
The formula must have had some success, as Slatkin and the DSO have done it again. The 2015 season included a Tchaikovsky Festival, and this last weekend saw the release of a live album of all six Tchaikovsky symphonies. This time the digital recording was made available on iTunes, and I pre-ordered the cycle as soon as I heard it was going to be available. I was not disappointed in the least. The sound of the recordings is absolutely fantastic. Tchaikovsky is known for his lush orchestration and wonderful melodies, and the acoustics of Orchestra Hall show off the sound of the orchestra at its finest. The strings are lush, the woodwinds clear, and the brass is warm and powerful in all the right moments. I think classical music fans have several good choices to pick from when it comes to recordings of Tchaikovsky, but this new album should make just about everyone’s short list of favorites.
For full disclosure, I will tell you that this is not any sort of paid review (I wish it was!!). I purchased my own copy of the recordings, and make not a single cent if you actually purchase a copy. I am a big fan of my hometown orchestra. I came of age during the time when Neeme Jarvi was music director, and now get to enjoy another special time with Maestro Slatkin serving in that position. I eagerly downloaded tracks the first day the album was available and started listening. I, of course, skipped to the end and listened to my favorite work first, the Sixth Symphony. Almost a year ago, I wrote a blog post entitled “CSI: Saint Petersburg”, wherein I included some of the history and mystery around the Sixth and final symphony of Peter Tchaikovsky. It is one of the most moving and gut wrenching works in the orchestra repertoire. Donald Tovey writes about Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony:
“It is not for merely sentimental or biographical reasons that Tchaikovsky’s sixth and last symphony has become the most famous of all his works. Nowhere else has he concentrated so great a variety of music within so effective a scheme; and the slow finale, with its complete simplicity of despair, is a stroke of genius which solves all the artistic problems that have proved most baffling to symphonic writers since Beethoven.”
The symphonies of Tchaikovsky are beautiful, melodic works which are audience favorites year after year. This new cycle from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra is a worthy addition to anyone’s collection. If you have never heard the works, this album would be a fine place to start. Great performances from a great orchestra in a legendary hall with a master conductor. What more could you ask for?