Piotr Ilych TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893) Manfred, Symphony in Four Scenes after Byronís Dramatic
Poem, Op. 58 (1885) [59:02]
rec. live, Royal Festival Hall, London, 8 December 2004. LPO LIVE LPO0009 [50:02]
Although he initially
turned down the project, Tchaikovsky eventually accepted the
challenge of composing a symphony based on Byronís autobiographical
poem Manfred, as put forth by the influential Moscow
critic Vladimir Stasov. Berlioz turned it down, then Balakirev,
but it was Tchaikovsky, when encouraged by Balakirev some two
years after Stasovís proposal, that took up the task and saw
it through. Perhaps it was the similarity between Byronís own
guilty situation - he fled England after an incestuous affair
with his half-sister was revealed - and Tchaikovskyís deep
seated anguish over his own homosexuality that brought the
music out of him. Byronís storyis a thinly veiled self-portrait,
a portrait in which the composer could easily see himself.
the fourth and fifth symphonies, this work is even more overtly
programmatic than its numbered counterparts. The music drips
with romantic angst, passion, pathos and drama. Tchaikovsky,
who was never afraid of expressing his emotions forcefully,
all but gets carried away in this substantial and colorful
score. Although I may well be taken to task by a reader or
two for admitting it, this recording was to my knowledge, my
first experience with this music. I was aware of a number of
well-received recordings such as Pletnevís with the Russian
National Orchestra and Jansonsí with the Oslo Philharmonic.
It was, however, quite refreshing to sit down with this music
with unbiased ears.
What I heard was
most astonishing. Being familiar with Tchaikovskyís numbered
symphonies, there were certain things I was expecting, for
example, a prominent use of the oboe, lush and technically
challenging string writing, forceful use of timpani and cymbals.
All this I got! In addition there are some splendid moments
for the harp and as one might expect, all the high drama is
carried out by a prominent and even forceful brass section.
And yet, for all the histrionics, there is much elegant and
tuneful writing too.
Each year we hear
more hue and cry about the precarious fate of the classical
music industry and we read report after report about the demise
of recordings and of great orchestras. If this is the case,
I am at a loss to explain the dozens of new discs that come
my way each month. What is happening though is a seemingly
new business model, such as the one on display here, with a
major orchestra aggressively marketing its concerts as turned
into recordings. The London Symphony is following suit and
the results have been consistently fine discs coming out in
fairly plentiful quantity.
There is a bit
of crowd noise with which to contend here, but it is minimal,
and the quality of the playing is first rate. One might even
believe that the performances are fresher and more vibrant
as they are the documents of a single event, without much aid
from retakes and studio trickery. I do wish however that the
kind producers would bag the applause at the end. It simply
isnít necessary and kind of destroys the mood, particularly
in a work like this one that ends on a quiet note of forgiveness.
That gripe aside,
Maestro Jurowski has given us an exciting and engaging reading
of a work that I will now make an effort to get to know better.
What more can one ask of a recording that to entice the listener
to additional hearings? The production values here are of the
highest order, with clear and luminous† sound and consistently
superb playing in the orchestra. The harpist gets special recognition
for some spectacular effects. Program notes are concise and
above all interesting; devoid of the blow by blow analytical
drivel that plagues so many other such endeavors.
If this is the
kind of music making we are going to get from this label, then
long may it live. Heaven knows there is a wealth of fine concert
material from this orchestra that is worth repeated hearings.
High praise indeed for a superior product.
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