The Fanfare Magazine Review of Tchaikovsky Symphonies 4, 5 & 6/Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra/Johnterryl Plumeri by James Reel
Lack of fussiness does not mean lack of involvement in Johnterryl Plumeri's convenient two-disc collection of Tchaikovsky's three most popular symphonies. These are highly musical readings, not the dull trudge of so many conductors who claim "fidelity to the score" without being able to bring the score to life. Plumeri manages to animate the music without calling attention to any individual tricks or techniques.
Consider the opening movement of the Fourth Symphony. After the fanfare (not as hard-edged yet quivery as Russian orchestras used to play it), it gets down to business at a well-judged tempo that neither pushes nor drags. Now, Plumeri's steadiness doesn't mean he sticks to a core tempo no matter what; he does stretch out, for example, for the bassoon solo just before the arrival of the second subject. In its unaffected sensitivity to detail that doesn't impede the musical flow, Plumeri's account of this and the other two symphonies evokes Jansons/Oslo on Chandos (singly or in a box) and Monteux/Boston on RCA (scandalously, only the "Pathétique" is currently available). Now, Plumeri's Fourth isn't necessarily perfect; in the third movement, the woodwinds turn shrill—they push too hard—and the final movement isn't nearly as rip-roaring as Mravinsky/Leningrad on DG; but Plumeri's orchestra, unlike Mravinsky's, doesn't come close to falling apart, either.
In the Fifth, Plumeri brings an Italianate singing quality to the first movement. In the second, the horn soloist has just enough vestige of vibrato to remind you that this is a Russian band, but it's a subtle bit of character. The third movement breathes naturally, and in the fourth, Plumeri builds excitement without letting the music run away from him; he insists on careful balances and incisive attacks, although, honestly, the latter aren't Dorati-sharp (as on Mercury, with the London Symphony Orchestra).
All these qualities apply to the performance of the "Pathétique," as well. Note especially the abundance of instrumental detail in the early part of the first movement, and the very effective tempo choices in the last: truly lamentoso without turning lugubrious.
You may not be interested in Plumeri's Tchaikovsky if you've reached the point where a conductor has to do something very unusual to hold your attention. But if you're tired of all that and want to go back to basics, or if you're looking for a straightforward but effective foundational version, Plumeri will serve you well.