MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around 2023
Approaching 60,000 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             

Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World

all Nimbus reviews

all tudor reviews

Follow us on Twitter

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger


Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Chandos recordings
All Chandos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all Bridge reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All Eloquence reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing



Sound Samples & Downloads

Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Manfred Symphony in B minor, Op. 58(1885)
Gürzenich-Orchester Köln/Dmitri Kitaienko
rec. 29-31 March 2009, Kölner Philharmonie, Cologne, Germany

Experience Classicsonline

Happily, this new Manfred arrived just a few days before Vassily Petrenko was due to conduct the same work at the BBC Proms (see review). The latter’s much-fêted Naxos recording (see review) also heralds something of a musical renaissance for the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, which is playing better today than it has for years. It’s clear from this new Kitaienko disc that the Gürzenich band is also in good shape, and with the help of Cybele AV they’re presented here in glorious, full-bodied Super Audio sound. Petrenko is not so blessed, either on disc or via the Proms relay, but what I wanted to know is how he compares with Kitaienko in terms of overall performance. It turned out to be a most instructive exercise.
Lord Byron’s dramatic poem Manfred, written between 1816 and 1817, is one of the cornerstones of Romanticism. The eponymous hero, tortured by the death of his beloved Astarte, seeks in vain for some kind of redemption. His singleness of purpose is typically Faustian but, unlike the latter, his eventual death is gratefully received. Byron’s lines - remarkable in their emotional range and intensity - make Manfred an obvious choice for 19th-century composers, yet only Schumann and Tchaikovsky took up the challenge. Conductors seem equally reticent - Manfred is the least recorded of Tchaikovsky’s symphonies - but thankfully there are fine versions from the likes of Riccardo Muti (EMI) and Mariss Jansons (Chandos).
Within seconds it’s obvious that Kitaienko’s Manfred is going to be something special. The sheer desolation of that opening phrase has seldom been so keenly felt, that haunting tune destined to return - like a Berliozian idée fixe - throughout the symphony. Some may baulk at Kitaienko’s rather slow speeds, but then this is a more spacious reading than most, teasing out all the music’s ravishing details. The deep, wide sound-stage and the pleasing concert hall ambience really help here, the magisterial climax at the end of the first movement blossoming to thrilling effect. This is a very different performance to either of Petrenko’s, both of which strike me as somewhat unrelenting in their forcefulness and drive. Yes, they are exciting, but alongside the dark intensity and Byronic brooding of Kitaienko’s performance they seem curiously one-dimensional.
Make no mistake, Kitaienko is alive to the changing moods and textures of this work, the scurrying figures of the second movement as light and airy as one could wish for, the bright flutes and harp flourishes especially well caught. All too often Manfred can seem like a series of discrete tableaux, but in Kitaienko’s hands there’s a strong narrative, a dramatic coherence, that is most welcome. Indeed, the longueurs that afflict even the best performances of Manfred are entirely absent here, the mind and ear constantly surprised and delighted by what unfolds. There’s little of that sense of discovery with Petrenko, whose thrust and thrill approach tends to miss some of the the shifts and shades of this score.
The third movement is surely the most balletic, Kitaienko infusing the opening bars with a gentle lift and elegance that is most beguiling. The Gürzenich band respond with playing of great refinement, the climaxes carefully paced and scaled in a reading that seems so much better proportioned and more sensibly weighted than usual. Really, this is a deeply penetrating performance, the characterful, beautifully blended wind playing at the end of this movement encapsulating everything that is so admirable about this disc. Try as I might, I simply cannot engage with Petrenko here, even though the RLPO play their hearts out for him. And anyone watching the televised Prom will see from the players’ body language that he really has energised this orchestra.
The fourth movement - also the longest - is usually the one where I’m likely to ‘wool gather’ - to use Forster’s phrase - but thankfully Kitaienko has the orchestra on a very tight rein. The brass and percussion are simply splendid, the growing tension more palpable than I’ve heard in ages. As for the mighty tam-tam and bass drum they emerge with a clarity and impact one seldom hears in the concert hall. It’s thrilling stuff, yet there’s no denying the profound sense of melancholy that lurks just beneath the surface - epitomised by the reprise of that opening motif - and that’s one element I don’t hear enough of in Petrenko’s readings. And just in case you think Kitaienko is too introspective, try the orchestral earthquake that strikes at 9:58.
Now there’s one aspect of this performance that will polarise opinion, and that’s the organ in the work’s closing pages. At the Prom Petrenko has the Albert Hall organ at his disposal - and what a glorious sound it makes - but Tchaikovsky originally scored the passage for the more discreet harmonium. I suppose we ought to be grateful that wheezy old relic isn’t used here any more, but listening to the much more restrained Kölner Philharmonie organ I’m persuaded this is the weight and blend of sound Tchaikovsky had in mind. After all, this isn’t the Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony, nor is it an ode by Klopstock. For the Romantic hero ‘half in love with easeful death’ this is no blazing apotheosis, but an end that’s gratefully acknowledged and nobly borne. This music has seldom sounded so moving, Kitaienko gauging the valedictory mood with great sensitivity and style.
All too rarely one hears performances that challenge convention and old favourites alike. This Manfred is one of them, outshining Petrenko - and others - at every turn. As for the Gürzenich orchestra, they play with a passion and polish that wouldn’t disgrace a top-flight international band. Couple that with a fresh, invigorating take on a hoary old favourite and yes, you have a Manfred to die for.
Dan Morgan



Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews


      Composer surveys
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site


Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure



Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Past and present

Helpers invited!

How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips

Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Other links
Web News sites etc

A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.