Tchaikovsky: The Tempest; Manfred

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky
WORKS: The Tempest; Manfred
PERFORMER: Russian National Orchestra/Mikail Pletnev
The Russian National Orchestra was founded in 1990 by pianist Mikhail Pletnev. In concert they make a splendidly colourful sound, full-bodied and razor-sharp in attack. In the studio, on the evidence of this latest release, resonantly recorded in Moscow in November 1993, their impact is less balanced. An amazing string section (one has never heard more physically exciting bass articulation) shows consistently meticulous attention to detail and phrasing, at the expense, however, of brass presence (somewhat recessed), high percussion (so obscured as to become apologetic) and harp quality (thin, distant and unlovely). Placing the strings in the foreground, going for lots of bottom end, and congesting the tuttis – the peculiar sum of this particular engineering mix – is rarely the best way to make a recording or flatter an artist. Interpretatively, Pletnev has three quarters of the measure of Manfred: a generally strong-boned reading, with plenty of rhythmic energy and measured declamation. The finale, though (where he opts for an organ in place of harmonium), disappoints. His initial tempo fluctuations seem wilful, his bacchanale lacks Muti’s Philadelphia compulsion (EMI), and, unlike Jansons (Chandos), he misses the final dénouement. Beautiful in places, even spine-tingling (The Tempest), but too many frustrations en route. Ates Orga