Tchaikovsky: Manfred Symphony

COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky
LABELS: LPO
ALBUM TITLE: Tchaikovsky
WORKS: Manfred Symphony
PERFORMER: London PO/Vladimir
CATALOGUE NO: LPO 0009
If you want to know why the London Philharmonic’s recent decision to make Vladimir Jurowski its new Music Director was a brilliant choice, then this disc, recorded in December 2004, provides the answer. Tchaikovsky’s most complex score is also the most flawed of his major works. For three-quarters of a long journey, the composer forges inspired links between Byronic hero Manfred’s inconsolable nomadic existence and his own, only to betray Byron’s bleak conclusion with an apotheosis and a requiem for the godless protagonist. Jurowski can’t convince us that genius hovers over the final salvation, but he at least makes it sound more natural and purposeful than any other interpreter. And this is a live performance which always knows exactly what it wants, carving lugubrious tragedy out of the Alpine rock-face without the usual whiplash hysteria and striding manfully from one well-defined tempo to another.

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Above all, Jurowski was already forging a new sound for the LPO, gracing muscular string playing with lush Romantic portamentos and ensuring maximum impact from already glorious orchestral brass playing (the horn work throughout is ideal). The woodwind fly at his bidding in the miraculous scherzo, Tchaikovsky’s homage to Berlioz’s Queen Mab, before settling in the brighter moments of the third movement’s troubled pastoral; though it’s odd that the vivid but not entirely cohesive recording spotlights flutes in the welter of Manfred’s first-movement despair. Comparisons with Iván Fischer’s more febrile Budapest performance – if and when that reaches CD – will be fascinating, but certainly no previous Manfreds on disc achieve as much as this one.