The Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich can look back on 150 years of uninterrupted concert activity. This makes it one of the traditional European orchestras whose profile has been shaped over the years by renowned conductors in guest and principal positions. At the latest since the activity of its long-time principal conductor and current honorary conductor David Zinman, the orchestra has been considered world class. It was primarily the Beethoven cycle under Zinman, with its historically oriented, clear view of the Bonn composer's symphonic works, which continues to serve as a model for other orchestras with modern instrumentation to this day. Since the 2019/2020 season, the Tonhalle Orchestra's chief position is held by the Estonian conductor Paavo Järvi, who has made for himself as head of the hr Symphony Orchestra a name as a first-class orchestra educator, and who is also Artistic Director of the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen for 16 years and, in parallel, Chief Conductor of the NHK Symphony Orchestra since the 2015/2016 season. Due to his numerous engagements as orchestra director, Paavo Järvi belongs to the generation of today's conductors who, thanks to flight connections, are present on almost all continents almost simultaneously. However, unlike some of the "Flying Dutchmen", he can claim to offer each of his orchestras full commitment, including extensive rehearsal work. The result can be heard on the video streaming platform medici.tv after only a short collaboration with the Tonhalle Orchestra and now also on his latest album with the Zurich orchestra dedicated to Tchaikovsky.
The album is the first of a planned complete recording of the Russian composer's symphonies and other orchestral works. Since the recordings are planned, as in the case of the first Tchaikovsky album with an audience, Covid-19 has a decisive influence on the release of further albums, which means that the project will probably stagnate for the time being. So, let us enjoy the first album with the fifth symphony and the tone poem Francesca da Rimini. What distinguishes Järvi's interpretation from the much wilder attacks on the theme of fate inherent in the Fifth Symphony, which are drastically lived out on the recordings present on the market, is the exquisite, civilized sound of the Tonhalle Orchestra, even in turbulent scenes. The drama of this symphony, is not delivered in a superficially trumped-up manner, but rather occurs to a large extent, especially in the first movement and in the Andante in the internal structure of the score. Through restrained playing, magic moments occur. The waltz of the third movement, played with disarming finesse, leaves the listener air to breathe after the preceding drama, before the drama is ingeniously re-ignited in the last movement by tension-increasing, quiet violin playing in a structured manner, flaring up brightly and racing towards its downfall.
This is an interpretation of Tchaikovsky's symphony of fate for the experienced, enlightened listener who is also willing to accept the tone poem Francesca da Rimini, usually interpreted as hellishly overheated, as a civilized staged, orchestrally perfectly illuminated alternative in a subdued heat.
Paavo Järvi, conductor