Tchaikovsky

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a
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Album title:
Tchaikovsky
Composer(s):
Tchaikovsky
Works:
Manfred Symphony
Performer:
Czech Philharmonic / Semyon Bychkov
Label:
Decca
Catalogue Number:
483 2320
Performance:
starstarstarstarnostar
Recording:
starstarstarstarstar
4
Reviewer:
BBC Music Magazine
Tchaikovsky

Few of Tchaikovsky’s works are more controversial than the Manfred Symphony. Detractors find it long-winded and structurally diffuse, taking particular issue with the finale’s somewhat stop-go trajectory. Semyon Bychkov totally repudiates this view, arguing that such objections to the Symphony disappear if the interpreter follows Tchaikovsky’s extremely precise performing instructions and careful balancing
of orchestral textures to the letter.

In this performance, magnificently delivered by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and captured in clear yet opulent sound, Bychkov’s attention to inner detail effectively enhances the work’s emotional intensity. Its opening movement, depicting Manfred alone wandering the Alps, is particularly compelling, Bychkov setting up the oppressive atmosphere from the first bars as bass clarinet and three bassoons intone the work’s doom-laden idée fixe supported by fatefully trudging lower strings. Even the delicate string textures at the hesitant introduction of the theme associated with Astarte hardly provides relief, particularly when this new material gathers momentum and finally collapses after a climax of utter despair. The Finale, too, benefits from Bychkov’s cogent interpretation which welds the seemingly disparate sequence of thematic reminiscences and tempo changes into a much more credible entity than is usual. Particularly illuminating is his approach to the much-maligned fugue which is shorn of its customary academic propriety, and instead manifests a kind of hell-for-leather drive akin to Berlioz. The only snag is the rather tame apotheosis, with the organ pushed too far into the background to make its entry sound sufficiently dramatic. 

Erik Levi

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