Manfred – Symphony in B minor, Op.58
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Recorded live in the Royal Festival Hall, London on 8 December 2004
Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson
Reviewed: August 2006
CD No: LPO – 0009
Duration: 59 minutes
In 1986, James Burnett produced an independent recording of Tchaikovsky’s Manfred with Mariss Jansons and the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, which Chandos wisely chose to licence. It caused great interest at the time and one magazine put it among the top thirty recordings of the century, and, indeed, it is the epitome of how a fully scored romantic work should be recorded. The overall sound was bright and refreshing, the inner detail astounding. Jansons’s lucid approach was a revelation in this work; his lively tempos and urgent momentum knitted the music together. Many conductors see Manfred as a set of four symphonic poems, but Jansons convinced the listener that this was indeed a symphony that could stand alongside the composer’s famous six.
Vladimir Jurowski frequently brings to mind Jansons’s great interpretation. He is sensitive and thoughtful in his reading – hardly surprising for a Moscow-born conductor – and his approach illuminates the ever-changing moods of the movements. Jurowski has recently been announced as Principal Conductor of the London Philharmonic (from the 2007-8 season) and I have tended to think of him as a young conductor (in conducting terms 40 is still considered young). It is an interesting thought that this recording was made when Jurowski was about the same age as was Jansons when he made his.
There is foreboding throughout the long opening sequence and the brilliant second movement marked Vivace con spirito – a scherzo in all but name – is balletic throughout. The succeeding ‘Pastorale’ is given great elegance. On the whole Jurowski doesn’t always seek the thrusting drive of Jansons or, going back to a remarkable 1949 presentation, Toscanini, and Jurowski’s slightly more expansive approach is evident until the start of the finale. Here the orchestra is given its head and the first few minutes before Tchaikovsky’s first change of tempo, is driven with intense fury. Probably nothing could be done to integrate the composer’s two longish slow sections with their dark musings, but the intervening fiery fugal passage (cut by Toscanini), which these reflective sections surround, is, again, forced forward with great vigour. It is also good to hear a recording that does not seem apologetic about Tchaikovsky’s use of the organ towards the end.
Engineer Mike Hatch is to be congratulated on achieving lucid sound under conditions that were far from favourable (in engineering terms, all live performances represent conditions far from favourable). He finds a fair amount of warmth in the usually unforgiving Royal Festival Hall without ever making it sound as if the ambience were studio-assisted. Full marks in particular for the splendidly weighty bass drum. If the dynamics do not seem especially wide, it could be that the conductor chose not to hit the main climaxes with the utmost force. Without being a ‘hi-fi spectacular’, the balancing is carefully worked out and the superb orchestration comes over in specific detail.
Not quite the sparkle of Jansons, perhaps, but then Jurowski seeks weight instead. This was a single rendition rather than, as is so often the case, a conflation of live performances. For this reason I do not object to the applause being left in and the very long fade is most suitable. Above all, this issue confirms the high standard at which the London Philharmonic has been playing in recent years.