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Posted July 15, 2012
In Tchaikovsky's time, the Ukraine was called "Little Russia." Because Tchaikovsky used several Ukrainian folk melodies in this work, his Second Symphony, the critic Nicholas Kashkin nicknamed it the "Little Russian." Despite the fact that recording companies have traditionally neglected this symphony compared with the last three Tchaikovsky symphonies, there are plenty of recordings from which to choose.
The symphony exists in two versions; dissatisfied with the first version of 1872, Tchaikovsky revised the symphony in 1879. Most CDs offer the final version, although the 1872 version, conducted by Geoffrey Simon, is available on a CD. What makes this CD unique is that the 1879 version is offered, together with a fifth track that offers the 1872 version of the first movement. It is interesting to compare the two versions of the opening movement, originally called Andante sostenuto - Allegro comodo, but subsequently renamed Andante sostenuto - Allegro vivo and shortened from ca. 16 minutes to 11 minutes. To shorten a 16-minute movement to one of 11 minutes, Tchaikovsky pruned it drastically, and to me the revised version is the better of the two. The original contains material that seems to me to add little or nothing to the movement's overall structure and detracts from the momentum. Unlike the original (1869) version of "Romeo and Juliet," which is startlingly different from the 1880 version, there are, to my ear, no corresponding radical changes here, just removal of superfluous material.
This new version, by the Russian National Orchestra under Mikhail Pletnev, will surely please those who want to hear the original and revised versions of the first movement, plus the rest of the symphony, all on one CD. Don't let the strange album picture put you off; the recorded sound is first-rate.