Evgeny Svetlanov conducts Berliner Philharmoniker in Beethoven, Haydn, and Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony [Testament]

0 of 5 stars

Leonore Overture No.3, Op.72a
Symphony No.100 in G (Military)
Manfred – Symphony in B minor after Byron, Op.58

Berliner Philharmoniker
Evgeny Svetlanov

Recorded 4 March 1989 in Philharmonie, Berlin

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: May 2013
SBT2 1481 (2 CDs)
Duration: 84 minutes



So associated is he with the music of his homeland that it is all too easy to forget that Evgeny Svetlanov conducted repertoire way beyond the shores of his native Russia. Whether British, French, German or Italian music, Svetlanov (1928-2002) brought intensity and individuality to such as Bruckner, Debussy, Elgar, Holst, Mahler, Respighi and Wagner. He was no stranger to Beethoven, either, recording at least the ‘Eroica’ and Fifth Symphonies. Here with Berliner Philharmoniker, on 4 March 1989, Leonore No.3 enjoys much richness and vividness. The tempos are moderate, properly adagio when required, but Svetlanov also explores the quietest dynamics and the leanest textures. It’s a reading full of personality and insight. Similarly the Haydn is gloriously old-fashioned in some respects, although the first movement, unfolded with Klemperer-like deliberation, is curiously humourless and earnest, and the lack of an exposition repeat doesn’t help. The succeeding Allegretto is gently done, the militaristic percussion integrated, until its fanfare-led final appearance. After this, the Minuet chugs along delightfully, ushering in a finale that is simply too fast, however well played it is – certainly deft, and often delicate – and as invigorating as it might be.

With the performance of Tchaikovsky’s great Manfred Symphony, we have a serious problem, namely the mutilation of the finale to about half of its length. How a devoted interpreter of this masterpiece could perpetrate such savagery is one thing – although he is not alone in this among Russian conductors (Temirkanov is another) – and, ironically, Svetlanov’s Soviet recording of Manfred is complete. Further irony is that the Berlin account is thrilling and tender, wonderfully played, and full of Byronic splendour. Okay, there are unsolicited gong strokes at the end of the first movement, but these are not unusual either (Previn includes them, for example), and the metrically complex scherzo holds no terrors for these musicians. The opening of the slow movement is very expressively turned with a quite lovely oboe solo … and then the finale – what there is of it (no fugue, no organ) – is devilishly fast and incisive, and suitably orgiastic; but, to round things off, there is the return of the first-movement’s coda, once again made noisy with the gong, and which couldn’t be more opposed to Tchaikovsky’s transcendental and meditative intentions. Oh well.

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