Apart from the more commonly known Six Symphonies, Tchaikovsky also completed a programmatic symphony in response to a request by Mily Balakirev. The subject matter was Lord Byron's drama, "Manfred," a work Schumann had attempted to put to music many years earlier. Balakirev had tried to sell the idea to others, including Berlioz, with little success. Even Tchaikovsky was initially skeptical, and after the fact, even conceded that it was not an ideal match of subject matter and his own musical approach. Still, the resulting music is interesting, even if only in a limited fashion. The two outer movements are trademark Tchaikovsky: full of pomp, majesty, drama, and intensity. The momentum of the symphony as a whole suffers because of the less focused, convincing middle movements and perhaps because of this, the work is not frequently performed. This Oehms Classics album features the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln under Dmitrij Kitajenko, who truly brings out all of the positive attributes this symphony has to offer while minimizing its shortcomings. Kitajenko and orchestra deliver a powerful, vivid interpretation of Byron's melodrama set to music, striving to make it easily followed by audiences not likely familiar with the literary work. The orchestra's execution is meticulous in articulation, intonation, and balance. The result may not quite elevate "Manfred" to the level of the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth symphonies, but it definitely makes listeners stop and take notice of a composition that might otherwise go unnoticed. Oehms' sound quality, particularly the spacious SACD layer, is clear and clean.
AllMusic Review by Mike D. Brownell
|Manfred-Symphonie h-Moll Op. 58|