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Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-93)
Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op.74 ‘Pathetique’ [45.00]
Manfred Symphony, Op.58 [65.26]
Romeo and Juliet [20.21]
Capriccio Italien, Op.45 [15.18]
Edgar Krapp (organ: Manfred)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Claudio Abbado (6)
London Symphony Orchestra/Yuri Ahronovich (Manfred)
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Claudio Abbado
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Ferdinand Leitner (capriccio)
rec. Grosser Musikvereinsaal, Vienna, October 1973 (6); Watford Town Hall, January/February 1977 (Manfred); Symphony Hall, Boston, February 1971 (Romeo); Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin, 27 May 1959 (capriccio)
ELOQUENCE 482 6184 [65.31 + 80.53]

This reissue assembles performances from four different LPs originally issued on DG over a period of seventeen years. Although all four feature first-rank orchestras, the quality of the performances varies widely, as indeed does the recorded sound. Earliest is the 1959 recording of the Capriccio Italien, conducted by DG stalwart Ferdinand Leitner. Many of his recordings of this vintage, often made with provincial German orchestras, suffered from a lack of the impact and sparkle required if the music was to make its proper effect. But here, given a top-ranking set of players and a marvellous acoustic, there is plenty of body and impact and this is one of his most enjoyable recordings.

The two later recordings conducted by Claudio Abbado are also both excellent. He gives a relatively ‘straight’ account of the Pathétique symphony, but there is plenty of marvellously realised detail which frequently can go for nothing in more generalised performances. He admittedly does not allow himself to relax over-much in the second subject of the first movement, but the ensuing drama of the development is thrilling and his accounts of the 5/4 waltz and the march-scherzo which comprise the two succeeding movements are splendidly delivered. Those who seek more visceral or exotic thrills may well gravitate towards Bernstein and his marmoreal delivery of the finale, but Abbado is equally satisfying without stepping so far out of the mainstream. His account of Romeo and Juliet is even better; again we hear details which can be obscured in other performances, but the music is delivered with all the requisite passion and emotion which the subject demands. Both recordings are superlatively realistic.

Which leaves us with Yuri Ahronovich’s interpretation of the Manfred symphony, Tchaikovsky’s most extended venture into the genre and comparatively neglected only because of his unaccountable failure to provide it with a number (with the result it is sometimes omitted even from complete cycles on disc). Although it is clearly modelled on ‘programme symphonies’ in the style of Berlioz and Liszt, the programme is treated in a generalised manner which leaves the basic symphonic form untouched. Or it would be in more controlled hands than Ahronovich’s. But he seems intent in bringing out and emphasising every possible dramatic device in the book. The principal ‘Manfred’ theme is pulled around unconscionably, invariably heralded by a slowing of the tempo; and time and again he approaches climaxes with an uncontrolled acceleration of pace which more than once seems to leave the orchestra flailing in his wake, string figurations blurred and un-coordinated. And then in other places he pulls his punches; the string in the opening bars (marked with fortissimo accents on consecutive down-bows) are unacceptably feeble, and the scurrying violas a few pages later fail to provide any sense of forward impetus. At the very end of the symphony Tchaikovsky adds a harmonium to his scoring, and it has become traditional to beef this by the use of a full organ. This is all very well and good, but here the spliced-in organ from the Herkulessaal in Munich brings a roaring statement of the Dies irae on the pedals which completely dominates the rest of the orchestra in a manner that Tchaikovsky could never have envisioned. One has often to give thanks to the Eloquence label for rescuing LP recordings that might otherwise have slipped through the net; but I fear this is a case where the recording might better have been left to gather dust undisturbed. The Penguin Guide at the time described the LP as “totally unsatisfactory for repeated listening”, and I fear I can only concur.

The booklet comes with detailed and informative notes on the music (in English only) and the recordings are all of the top rank. Prospective purchasers may well be attracted by the Abbado and Leitner performances, but will need to look elsewhere for a Manfred.

Paul Corfield Godfrey



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