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Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 - 1893)
Variations on a Rococo Theme for cello and orchestra (1877) *
Manfred Symphony, Op. 58, edited Jordania (1885)
* Dong-Oo Lee, cello
Russian Federal Orchestra/Vakhtang Jordania
Moscow 23rd September 2000. DDD
ANGELOK 1 CD 9911 [67’00"]

All of these artists were new to me so reviewing this disc has been very interesting to say the least. I was very suspicious when I saw "edited Jordania" on the packaging for the Manfred Symphony, and this may well be the most overriding reason you may have for buying this disc. Infrequently, Russian artists (Svetlanov for example) have performed the Manfred Symphony like this, see below, and if you have heard this version in the concert hall, this new one may be of great interest. As far as I can hear, the editing is concerned with altering the tam-tam at the conclusion of the first movement from ff to fffffff if you get my meaning. In addition he does away with the organ in the finale and stitches the coda of the first movement onto the end of the last movement so that the symphony, instead of ending quietly as normal, goes out with a blaze.

The performance otherwise is strange – the orchestral playing is first class and the recording likewise is clear and truthful – but the interpretation is somewhat gentle in presentation. In Tchaikovsky in general, and Manfred is no exception to this, I like to hear the orchestra really working up a sweat in the passionate parts of the score, and there are plenty, but here, there seems to be a very laid back attitude to the whole proceedings. If you compare this issue to performances by Silvestri, Kletzki or Toscanini, you will find yourself having a totally different experience, more like the composer intended.

The same attitude is to the fore in the Rococo Variations with a first class soloist in Dong-Oo Lee, trained in the New England Conservatory of Music and the Kharkov Conservatory of Music. He has won numerous awards and has been the principal cellist in the KBS Symphony Orchestra for at least 17 years. He has a fine tone and produces very few fingering noises as he plays. His interpretation, no doubt aided and abetted by the conductor is also rather laid back when compared with the usual standard interpretation of Mstislav Rostropovitch.

Berlioz can take the credit for Manfred, as in 1867 he visited Russia to conduct performances of the Symphonie fantastique and Harold in Italy. Whilst there, he convinced "the five" to the possibility of the programmatic symphony, and Balakirev then suggested to Tchaikovsky that the subject of Byron’s Manfred would make a suitable subject for a programmatic symphony. Tchaikovsky was not impressed at all by the suggestion, but then he read the book in 1869 and was hooked. However it was some time before Tchaikovsky started work on the project and it was completed in 1886.

Its four movements depict particular events within the Manfred story, the first movement depicting Manfred wandering alone in the Alps, in despair and torment because of his lost love, Astarte.

In the second movement, the Fairy of the Alps appears to Manfred beneath the rainbow of a waterfall.

The slow movement depicts the simple life of mountain folk and the finale depicts the inside of the palace of the infernal Arimanes where Manfred appears in the midst of a bacchanal. The ghost of Astarte appears to Manfred, predicting the end of his earthly sufferings, and he then dies.

I would recommend this issue to anyone who wants to hear the modification to the score since in itself it is rather fun, but not if you are wanting a top notch interpretation of the score.

John Phillips


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