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Manfred symphony by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Manfred symphony

by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

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Manfred Symphony

in Four Scenes, Op. 58

[1] I. Lento lugubre – Moderato con moto [15:08]
[2] II. Vivace con spirito [9:37]
[3] III. Andante con moto [10:36]
[4] IV. Allegro con fuoco [17:40]

Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra
Mariss Jansons

Recorded: 26-29 November & 5 December 1986, Oslo Philharmonic Concert Hall, Oslo.

Chandos, 1988. 53:20. Liner notes by Noel Goodwin.


My copy of this CD comes with a sticker on the jewel case that bears the ultimate accolade: “PENGUIN GUIDE ROSETTE WINNER”. Why some people are so eager to be “guided” what to think and feel on entirely subjective matters is a mystery I have never been able to fathom. As luck would have it, this Penguin rosette is not entirely undeserved. This is a fine recording in decent digital sound. You could easily do worse. You could do better much less easily. Mariss Jansons, a Latvian born in 1943, is a fine musician with some fascinating ideas. He makes me pay attention to details I had previously overlooked (in the fugue of the finale, for instance). My only complaint is that he sounds a little inhibited in some of the most glorious moments. But he is not alone there. Many conductors fail when they reach those typically Tchaikovskian emotional heights like the second subject of the second movement or the climax of the third. Then I am tempted to say to them: “Unbend yourself, man. Let your hair down. Let the music soar.” Well, Mariss Jansons is not the soaring type. That said, he is surprisingly convincing in the apocalyptic conclusion of the first movement and the infernal sections of the finale. On the whole, this is an elegant rather than impassioned rendition, but quite convincing on its own. The sound is agreeably clean and with good dynamics, but without much depth or presence. I have no idea how the Penguin guys decided that the recording is “gloriously resonant and supported by luxuriant string sound”. ( )
1 vote Waldstein | Nov 7, 2018 |
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893)

[1] Élégie for Strings in G major [8’04]*

Manfred Symphony in B minor, Op. 58 [55’59]
[2] I. Lento lugubre [16’02]
[3] II. Vivace con spirito [9’12]
[4] III. Andante con moto [11’19]
[5] IV. Allegro con fuoco [19’12]

Philharmonia Orchestra
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra*
Vladimir Ashkenazy

Recorded: 4/1977, Kingsway Hall, London (Manfred) & 3/1988, Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London (Élégie).

Eloquence, 2006. 64'09. Liner notes by David Brown.


I don’t know if Ashkenazy came too late on a stage too crowded, but I certainly came too late to his Manfred. Six years earlier Maazel made a stupendous recording for the same label (but with the Wiener Philharmoniker); four years later Muti recorded the work with the same orchestra (but for EMI), much less stupendously than Maazel, it is true, but still with much more passion and drama. On the whole, Ashkenazy is mincing in the robust moments and meandering in the more lyrical ones. Only very occasionally does he come to life, for instance in the middle section of the second movement which opens with one of those tunes that have enriched the English language with the adjective “Tchaikovskian”. The little-known “Élégie” for strings is melancholic in a thoroughly conventional way and hardly among Tchaikovsky’s most inspired melodies, but still a nice bonus track. The liner notes by David Brown are as erudite as you would expect from Tchaikovsky’s most thorough biographer. It’s amusing to note how he has updated his old prejudice about the final movement. Now it is not the fugue that disturbs him, but “Manfred’s death [that] has a rosiness about it which substantiates Tchaikovsky’s belief that Manfred found a final relief. Perhaps this introduces a note of uncomfortable complacency....” Dear old David! I suspect he would love to suppress, as Gifford did in the first edition 199 years ago[1], Manfred’s final line: “Old man! ‘tis not so difficult to die.”

[1] The Works of Lord Byron: Poetry, ed. E. H. Coleridge, Vol. 4, p. 136, note 171. ( )
  Waldstein | Dec 2, 2016 |
Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893)

Manfred Symphony, Op. 58

[1] I. Lento lugubre – Moderato con moto – Andante [16.19]
[2] II. Vivace con spirito [8.45]
[3] III. Andante con moto [12.05]
[4] IV. Allegro con fuoco [21.03]

Philharmonia Orchestra
Riccardo Muti

Recorded: 7/1981, Kingsway Hall, London.

EMI, 1993. 58.21. Liner notes by Gerald Abraham.


This recording has gathered an enormous amount of praise for both sonic and artistic reasons. I’m afraid I cannot really join the mighty “Alleluia”. Mind you, Muti delivers a fine performance and EMI’s early digital sound is clean and rich. All the same, compared to Maazel’s ten years older recording for Decca (1971), this one is rather drab and dull. Muti has serious problems in the outer movements, not least a curious imbalance in the brass and the percussions: the horns are glorious but the trumpets and trombones are weak; the timpani are highly effective but the cymbals are simply overdone. As a result, the tremendous finale of the first movement and much of the orgiastic last movement suffer. The situation is only aggravated by Muti’s relatively slow tempos. It is this type of dragging the finale – almost one fourth of which Toscanini used to cut! – that has given some spurious support to those who continue to chant about “uneven music” and “structural flaws”. Nevertheless, this remains one of the few fairly successful “Manfreds” on record, mostly because of the inner movements. Here Muti is fascinating. He takes the scherzo pretty fast and captures its surreal atmosphere to perfection; the lyrical interlude is properly passionate, which is seldom the case. The climax towards the end of the third movement, another treacherous spot, is the finest I have ever heard. Here Muti is compelling and all but peerless. In the outer movements, however, he is no match for Maazel, not to mention Toscanini, but he is still preferable to the routine drudgery of Ashkenazy and Pletnev, neither of whom seems to have any idea what to do with this music. ( )
  Waldstein | Dec 2, 2016 |
Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky (1840–1893)

Manfred Symphony, Op. 58

[1] I. Lento lugubre; Moderato con moto; Andante (16:23)
[2] II. Vivace con spirito (9:37)
[3] III. Andante con moto (10:28)
[4] IV. Allegro con fuoco (18:52)

London Symphony Orchestra
Michael Tilson Thomas

[Recorded: June 1979, EMI Studios, London.]

CBS Records, n.d. [TT 55 min.]


This is not the best Manfred in modern sound: Maazel and the Wiener Philharmoniker for Decca (1971) take the palm. But this is still an excellent performance, sensitively yet passionately conducted by the then only 34 years old Michael Tilson Thomas. The one star down is because of the muddled, or rather muffled, sound. It is badly in need of remastering to increase the dynamic range and improve the clarity. This is sheer guesswork, but I surmise the original tapes, and perhaps the LP, sounded a lot better, but something went wrong with the transfer to CD; such mishaps were common in the 1980s. The liner notes in this ancient CD, probably released back in the late 1980s, do a fine job with the biographies of Tilson Thomas and the London Symphony, which are remarkably extensive and informative, but they neglect the music which is discussed but briefly in the end, and even that makes some strange claims (for instance, that Byron’s eponymous drama “attempts to romanticize the personal and political troubles of the mid-thirteenth century king of Sicily and Southern Italy who lost his throne to the Papacy...”; now this Manfred did exist, but the name is all he has in common with Byron’s hero). Anyway, let us hope this Manfred will one day be released in fine remastered sound. The performance deserves it and so does Tchaikovsky. Great recordings of Manfred are not exactly legion on the market.

Postscript [November 2018]. I have just noticed that the recording was released back in 2006 as a "bonus track" to Abbado's Tchaikovsky cycle with the Chicago Symphony. It was presumably remastered for the occasion, but I don't know for sure. The set, now out of print, was one of those grab bags offered at bargain prices which often preclude new remastering. ( )
1 vote Waldstein | Sep 26, 2015 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovskyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Ashkenazy, Vladimirconductorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brown, Davidliner notessecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Chailly, RiccardoConductorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Concertgebouw OrchestraOrchestrasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Haitink, BernardConductorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jansons, Marissconductorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Markevitch, IgorConductorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Muti, Riccardoconductorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Oslo Philharmonic Orchestrasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Philharmonia Orchestrasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Previn, AndréConductorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rozhdestvensky, GennadiConductorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thomas, Michael Tilsonconductorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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