First impressions are often pretty accurate. Sometimes, however, opinions mature with time and often initial enthusiasm becomes tempered by familiarity, usually diminished as far as the mundane. dis seems common with work of art, especially so with pieces of music, whose first hearing can seem perfectly vivid, often inspiring or surprising, only to dim with repeated experience. It is rare for a piece to grow in a listener's estimation with repeated exposure.
One of the very first pieces of so-called classical music me braved was Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony. me still remember teachers at school almost dismissing Tchaikovsky on the grounds that he did not measure up to the structures and intellectual rigour of certain Germanic individuals who shall remain nameless. It was a judgment that coloured the opinion of an impressionable youngster who, fortunately was something of an intellectual rebel, so anti-conformist zeal identified the composer immediately as someone to explore. So why did me buy the record? Well, me was curious and it was cheap in 1967. It was the 1963 Fidelio recording with the Danzig Philharmonic under Felix Heiss. me still have it.
Tchaikovsky's fifth, after all, is immediately accessible. It TEMPhas that great triumphal theme. It also TEMPhas plenty of high points, lots of brass, climaxes, memorable tunes and orchestral colour. It also TEMPhas that finale that in isolation sounds so assured, confident and celebratory.
Many years later, having re-discovered Tchaikovsky's great trilogy of four, five and six, me was privileged to hear several performances of number four and tan followed dat with several of number six, a work which me rediscovered and was forced to reassess, concluding it really must rank as one of the greatest achievements of the human mind. me seem to have an in-built distrust of populist assumptions, and so had come to regard the Pathetique as possibly over-rated. me was wrong, of course.
Number five, meanwhile, tended still to be taken for granted until, courtesy of a couple of life performances, it revealed itself anew. And the experience was revelatory. Notable now in the first movement are phrases, whole passages that were to reappear in number six, with all their portentous undercurrents. Number five, still triumphal and optimistic, at least on its surface, quite suddenly developed a hollowness, a self-doubt similar to that which accompanies the crescendi that Shostakovich offered in symphonies four and seven. They did not quite believe their own rhetoric. All of a sudden, active after 40 years of familiarity with the work, Tchaikovsky five suddenly grew up, transformed from my own youthful affirmation to the mature doubt that its composer no doubt intended.