The Russian label Vista Vera - extensively surveyed by Jonathan
Woolf - were good enough to send me a review copy of this disc.
It is the sixth entry in their Great Conductors series.
I thought I knew
my Russian conductors; at least those who had recorded. I had
not heard of Symeonov. In this connection the notes by Mikhail
Segelman are indispensable. Symeonov was a pupil of Alexander
Gauk and was very active in Ukrainian Radio in the 1950s. This
was after a not untypical spell in the wilderness when his times
in a German POW camp and later in partisan activity reaped suspicion
rather than reward. His name might be familiar to some DSCH
fans as he conducts the soundtrack of the film of Lady Macbeth
were taken down from a Moscow concert complete with audience.
The Romeo and Juliet might easily have been a studio
item as there are hardly any coughs or none that I noticed and
none of the fussy active ambience so evident in this Manfred.
Recording quality is 1960 radio broadcast standard. It's mono
and frankly not bad mono - not bad at all. The signal is intrinsically
strong, honest and unwavering. The balance at times sounds strange
- such as the startling immediacy of the tambourine in the Bacchanale.
As a dedicated Tchaikovskian
you have to hear this. It is also for those collectors and music-lovers
who want to hear intense musical documents of a moment in history.
Take Mahler 9 with Walter and the VPO in Vienna, Mravinsky and
the Leningrad Phil in Sibelius 7 in Moscow in 1965 or Beecham
with the RPO in London for Sibelius 2 in 1954. This Manfred
is in that company. Aficionados of the grainy virility of
the Russian orchestra in full flood should also track this down.
It is, in short, a great Manfred.
Symeonov is an expert
builder of the symphonic arc. He has the epic trajectory in
his blood and conveys this strongly. He takes thing slowly and
constructs intensity with subtlety. When the climactic statements
come they are overwhelming without being brutal. A sort of awed
excitement is never far from the surface. Neither is the tenderness
of the third movement scouted over. The brass are heroically
dominant yet disciplined. The performance 'feels' shaped and
held in every way without any lack of spontaneity. There are
some coughs and at least one volcanic sneeze as the climactic
eruption of a sequence of bronchial action and predictably it
comes during a quiet passage. But there is real vitality in
this recording. The delicacy of the waterfall scene is not lost
even if Tchaikovsky’s forces of inimical fate are never far
away. In the best hands Manfred is in the same universe
as the Fourth. In Symeonov on this date and time in Cold War
Moscow it was in the right hands. No wonder Vista Vera tracked
down the tape. It must have etched its experience into the history
of every person who attended and of every listener to what must
have been an extraordinary concert.
the very familiar Romeo and Juliet might have been a
let-down. It is placed last on the disc though you can soon
deal with that. In fact it's another glorious performance carefully
built and unleashed. It does however have passion which is a
prerequisite to Tchaikvsky's symphonic fantasia and to Shakespeare's
play. As for tragedy – Tchaikovsky would not have touched the
subject if the play had not been tragic. Again it's mono but
again Tchaikovskians need to hear this for its excitement. Like
the Manfred it's tender, yes, but not Hollywood lush. Symeonov
does not disappoint.
These are fine performances
and great in the case of Manfred. For me this is up there
with the USSRSO/Svetlanov recording; just as feral but somehow
with a more patent sense of the architecture of the piece. As
for the Romeo and Juliet it joins the front ranks.