Tchaikovsky - Manfred Symphony
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Cat No: PTC5186387
Number of Discs: 1
Release Date: 31st March 2014
ArtistsRussian National Orchestra
This recording of Tchaikovsky’s lesser-known Manfred Symphony tops off an outstanding complete recording of the six numbered symphonies.
Those familiar with Pletnev’s Tchaikovsky project have impatiently been looking forward to this last recording with high expectations, as the Manfred is rarely performed in concert and a true rarity in the super-audio catalogue (most of the recordings of it are out of print and/or hard to find).
And the finished product is sure to exceed all expectations. This is Tchaikovsky as he has never been heard before. Under Mikhail Pletnev’s baton, the Russian National Orchestra exhibits an immense degree of esprit de corps, vitality, rigour and soul.
A triumph in sound and poetry.
The Europadisc Review
Live performances of Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony may still be relatively rare, but the work's once-poor reputation has risen considerably in recent years thanks to the medium of recording, with a number of impressive accounts in the catalogue. Mikhail Pletnev, however, now becomes one of the few conductors to have set down the work twice, both times with his own Russian National Orchestra. This new disc from Pentatone also caps his second traversal of Tchaikovsky's six numbered symphonies, and the combined experience of orchestra and conductor is in evidence throughout this thrilling performance.
It was the composer Balakirev who suggested to Tchaikovsky the idea of taking up Vladimir Stasov's programme on Byron's dramatic poem Manfred as the basis for a symphony – though only after Balakirev himself and Berlioz had both turned it down. Tchaikovsky too was reluctant at first, but – drawing on his own experience of time spent in the Alps – he eventually found enough to engage with personally that he was able to develop Byron's story of the tormented Manfred in his Alpine hideaway into his most ambitious and imposing programmatic work. The spirit of Berlioz's Harold in Italy (another Byronic symphony) may hover in the background, but this is music of an unmistakably Tchaikovskyian imprint and passion.
Tchaikovsky organised the symphony in four 'tableaux', and the work's episodic nature, with bold contrasts in its outer movements and two picturesque intermezzi (the Alpine fairy of the scherzo, followed by a pastoral depiction of hunters and mountain folk), suits Pletnev's approach perfectly. By turns impassioned, doggedly heroic and intimately poetic, Pletnev and his orchestra know how to bring out all the manifold flavours of Tchaikovsky's score, with playing that is as characterful as it is committed. The strings and brass are full-blooded in the Russian mould, while the woodwind are deftly balanced and voiced: the colours of this score can seldom have been so vividly captured. There is no shortage of magic or lyricism in the central movements, while the drama of the outer movements is palpable. Compared with his earlier Deutsche Grammophon recording, Pletnev's speeds are now broader, but this allows him to dig deeper into the music's fabric with no lessening of urgency. In Pletnev's hands the musical non sequiturs of the sprawling finale become strengths, the orchestra well up to the technical and musical challenges, and the fugal passages are discharged with a panache that disarms criticism. More than once, the kinship of this work with Tchaikovsky's expressively intense opera The Queen of Spades is clearly highlighted, while the ending (Manfred finally achieving redemption) is perfectly poised.
With demonstration-class recording and a wide dynamic range, this is a worthy successor to the same team's earlier Tchaikovsky recordings, and an essential part of the Pentatone cycle rather than merely a worthy adjunct. Whole-heartedly recommended!
1Manfred Symphony - I.Lento lugubre...
2Manfred Symphony - II.Vivace con spirito
3Manfred Symphony - III.Andante con moto
4Manfred Symphony - IV.Allegro con fuoco
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