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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Manfred Symphony * (1885) [51:06]
Alexander BORODIN (1869-1876)
Symphony No. 2 in B minor # (1869-76) [26:22]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Paul Kletzki
rec. Kingsway Hall, London, * 29 Jan, 2 Feb 1954; # 3, 12 Feb 1954, Mono. ADD
TESTAMENT SBT 1048 [77:39]

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Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY
(1840-1893)
‘Manfred’ Symphony in Four Scenes after Byron’s Dramatic Poem* (1885) [59:02]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Vladimir Jurowski
* rec. live at Royal Festival Hall, London, 8 December 2004
LONDON PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA LPO-0009 [59:02]

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Testament are to be congratulated for bringing back to the catalogues, these two classic recordings made in the acclaimed acoustic of London’s Kingsway Hall by the renowned Philharmonia, on top form, in 1954.

The opening Allegro of the characterful Kletzki’s reading of the Borodin symphony crackles with vitality and there is an atmosphere of enticing mystery in its darker corners. The Scherzo, with those memorable, dotted-rhythm, ‘spinning’ figures, also has plenty of energy and bounce in its outer sections and diaphanous beauty in its romantic centre. The lovely Andante is distinguished by the virtuoso playing of piccolo player, Arthur Ackroyd, trumpeter Harold Jackson, clarinettist Bernard Walton and the legendary horn player Dennis Brain. Kletzki’s finale sizzles, dancing breathlessly and hedonistically to its thrilling conclusion.

But the main draw of this concert is Kletzki’s classic 1954 Mono recording of Tchaikovsky’s ‘Manfred’ Symphony - written between the composer’s 4th and 5th Symphonies - or to give the work its full name: Manfred Symphony in Four Scenes after Byron’s Dramatic Poem, Op. 58.

This full title does not appear in the Testament notes neither does any information about the symphony which has a complex and detailed programme after Byron’s poem. I would have thought that this would be essential to fully understand and appreciate the work. Tully Potter’s notes, written in 1994, when this recording was issued by Testament concentrates on the career of Kletzki, no room is left, in the 8-page booklet, for notes on either of the two symphonies.

How well I remember the original LP with this striking picture on its front sleeve:-

Ford Maddox Brown’s ‘Manfred on the Jungfrau’ - Manchester City Art Galleries, Manchester, England

This inspired recording, still recommended in the catalogues, is a pared down version of the work. The cuts, in my opinion are fully justified: the main deletions, from the finale, being lugubrious material that adds little and loosens the tension.

Just released is a new uncut recording which will be compared in this review of the Kletzki. The differences in the timings of the four movements are shown below:-

Tchaikovsky Manfred Symphony - Timings

Kletzki

Jurowski

1st Movement – Lento lugubre- Moderato con moto-Andante

17:03

17:37

2nd Movement – Vivace con spirito

8:37

8:32

3rd Movement – Andante con moto

9:26

11:38

4th Movement – Allegro con fuoco

16:00

20:21

Taking the first movement, its programme, quoting from the 12-page LPO booklet (in English and German) "…introduces the central figure of [Byron’s] poem, Manfred who lives in an alpine castle and recklessly roams the peaks, shunning the company of men and communing with the spirit world, in an attempt to expiate his guilt over his illicit love for his sister Astarte.’ Kletzki immediately presents Manfred as a three-dimensional character, you sense his feelings of guilt and fell despair, his furious railings against fate. Contrastingly, sweet innocence and poignancy characterises Astarte. Jurowski also brings the Astarte music to life but until she appears his interpretation lacks the depth of character and the thrilling attack and bite of Kletzki’s reading. Jurowski may have the advantage of modern hi-fi sound and wide stereo perspectives but Testament’s, digital remastering of Columbia’s 1954 sound is nothing to be sniffed at – you hardly notice the lack of stereo and the fidelity and dynamic range is very good.

‘The second movement was suggested by an episode in the poem in which ‘The Alpine Fairy appears to Manfred beneath the rainbow of the waterfall’. Jurowski’s vision of the opening music is very ballet-like, pure and dainty; Kletzki is more mercurial, water and sprites seemingly truer to life and myth. His central Fairy Song is deliciously romantic, while Manfred’s sudden presence is sinister indeed. The Third movement is a Pastorale subtitled: ‘The simple, free peaceful life of the mountain folk’. Jurowski and Kletzki score equally well here in their sunny peaceful evocations with another dark appearance by Manfred to blight the serenity.

"The finale which departs substantially from Byron’s narrative, depicts a subterranean bacchanal; the spirit of Astarte appears, and pardons Manfred for his earthly sins before his death." Jurowski is wild and exciting enough and the entry of the organ is clearer and firmer than the old recording but, in comparison, Kletzki’s punchy, dynamic reading is delivered in white heat, so thrilling it has you ‘sitting on the edge of your seat’. I well recall how the closing pages of this recording shook the floorboards of the Peterborough Recorded Music Society’s venue where I first heard this glorious work.

Recorded in 1954, Kletzki’s reading, delivered in white heat, still remains supreme, easily eclipsing the new Jurowski/LPO recording despite excellent sound engineering.

Ian Lace

 



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