Tchaikovsky: Manfred Symphony - Pletnev
PentaTone Classics PTC 5186387
Classical - Orchestral
Tchaikovsky: Manfred Symphony
Russian National Orchestra
Long a concert rarity, this most convoluted of Tchaikovsky symphonies contains the gamut of musical parameters: passion, precision, drama, lyric beauty and an organ apotheosis in the finale that sets one’s pulse racing from the very first note. In this concluding release to his complete recording of Tchaikovsky’s symphonies, Mikhail Pletnev is in his element, with a Romantic poet (Byron), a strife-torn hero (Manfred), not to mention one of the greatest of all composers. Under Pletnev's baton, the Russian National Orchestra responds with an astounding degree of esprit de corps, vitality, rigor and soul in this psychological portrait of a tortured fate transformed into a triumph of sound and poetry.
Recorded in April 2013 at the DZZ Studio 5, Moscow, Russia, DSD64
The organ has been recorded separately at the St. Ludwig Kirche in Berlin.
Executive producers: Rick Walker & Job Maarse
Recording producer: Job Maarse (Polyhymnia International B.V)
Balance engineer and editing: Erdo Groot (Polyhymnia International B.V)
Recording engineer: Roger de Schot (Polyhymnia International B.V)
Review by Graham Williams - March 27, 2014
Mikhail Pletnev's 1994 recording of Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony for Deutsche Grammophon was arguably the finest item of that cycle, but his new recording of the work for PENTATONE is without doubt even better in both terms of sound quality and, for this listener, performance.
Those who have any of the earlier recordings in PENTATONE's Tchaikovsky cycle will be delighted to know that the exceptional engineering team from Polyhymnia (Erdo Groot and Roger de Schot) have once again captured the rich sound of the Russian National Orchestra with outstanding fidelity in the DZZ Studio 5 in Moscow. The 5.0 multi-channel DSD recording delivers a powerful yet detailed sound that captures Tchaikovsky's magnificent orchestration to perfection.
The Manfred Symphony is a undoubtedly a work that needs the superb sonics that we are accorded here. Tchaikovsky's instrumentation in this work is lavish - piccolo, 3 flutes, 2 oboes, cor anglais, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 cornets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, bell, cymbals, bass drum, tambourine, triangle, tam-tam, harmonium (or as here organ), 2 harps and strings - yet even the most heavily scored passages are conveyed with no sense of strain through one's speakers. Furthermore Pletnev's seating of the orchestra with antiphonal violins and double basses at the left rear allows Tchaikovsky's many exchanges between the strings to register in a way they do not on many other recordings of this work. One's only regret is that the microphones have also managed to pick up a fair amount of the conductor's vocalisations. Though Pletnev is not a serial groaner on the scale of Colin Davis or Valery Gegiev, his humming might irritate some listeners. The impressive organ that appears in the symphony's final apotheosis was recorded separately at the St. Ludwig Kirche in Berlin and has been skilfully dubbed on.
Pletnev's interpretation of the work has deepened considerably over the intervening 20 years since he last recorded it. His tempi in all four movements are more expansive, and he makes much more of Tchaikovsky's many dramatic pauses, as well as allowing time for more gracious phrasing from the solo players of his fine orchestra. Timings for both recordings are quite illustrative.
DGG I 15.17 II 9.50 III 10.17 IV 18.29 Total 53.33
PENTATONE I17.29 II 9.57 III 11.24 IV 20.21 Total 59.29
However, I did not feel that overall his spacious approach resulted in any lack of excitement, though those used to the more febrile recordings on CD from Maazel or Ashkenazy might have a different view. Pletnev's strongly characterised approach conveys the symphony's essentially tragic nature with great consistency, though in the second movement ('Vivace con spirito') he brings a winning balletic lightness to his performance, aided by some breathtaking playing from the RNO.
The finale is exciting, but not frenetic, and only the conductor's decision to halve the tempo of the main theme's two statements on the strings near the start of the movement might be considered questionable. The movement's central fugue is ideally trenchant and in Pletnev's hands the tranquillity of the closing pages are free from any hint of banality.
This release is one of the finest of Pletnev's Tchaikovsky survey and for many will be a clear first choice especially if sound quality is a major consideration.
Copyright © 2014 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net
Review by Mark Novak - November 13, 2014
The Manfred symphony, composed between the 4th and 5th symphonies, is every bit a symphony as the other numbered works in Tchaikovsky’s canon. Though many would call it a tone poem because of its lack of formal structure which eschews sonata form and its programmatic nature, this hour long work contains so many good ideas that the distinctions begin the blur. Still, the work remains a stepchild in the recorded oeuvre of Tchaikovsky’s symphonies and many a conductor who has recorded the numbered symphonies has failed to record Manfred. From the first time I heard this symphony years ago, I fell in love with it. It is an orchestral tour de force filled with great melodies and great orchestration.
Pletnev’s conducting throughout demonstrates a firm command of the music. The tempo of the first movement is perhaps a bit more deliberate than I prefer but his steady hand and nuanced interpretation pulled me in before long. He builds to a smashing climax where the excellent recording delivers orchestral bloom and bottom end in spades. I was entirely convinced by Pletnev’s conducting in the other three movements – he really has the measure of Tchaikovsky in his blood and the Russian National Orchestra play superbly. Pletnev reveals all of the drama in this music and there is a lot of drama! The grand fugue in the final movement is wonderfully delivered by this team leading up to the reintroduction of the descending Manfred theme that started the work.
The original score calls for a harmonium in the final movement though everyone in the modern era uses a pipe organ instead which actually has a big impact on the resulting sound. In this recording, Pentatone is forthright in saying that the organ part was recorded separately at a different location than the orchestra. Despite that, the integration in the final (stereo SACD) mix is nigh on perfect. There is a convincing illusion that the organ and orchestra are in the same space which speaks to the care and skill that the engineering team took in assembling the recording in the studio. I’ve never heard this work with a harmonium but I have to believe it would be a much different (and inferior) experience versus the huge pipe organ that is usually used.
As to the recorded sound in general, this is one of the best Pentatone’s I’ve heard. Every detail is heard. Massed strings sound wonderful as do the wind and brass instruments. Dynamic range is BIG. Timpani have great presence. Cellos and basses have a firm bottom end. Just enough hall sound to contribute to a big image. All around, this is superb sound. Having not heard any of the SACD competition for this work, I cannot compare/contrast. What I CAN say is that this is an excellent recording that deserves your consideration.
Copyright © 2014 Mark Novak and HRAudio.net