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Manfred Symphony the Voyevoda

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Written between the fourth and fifth symphonies, Tchaikovsky' programmatic Manfred Symphony, inspired by Byron' dramatic poem of the same name, contains some of the composer' most thrillingly orchestrated music and best tunes. For Tchaikovsky, as for

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 17 reviews
65 of 65 people found the following review helpful
At last, the performance I have sought for years. Nov. 16 2009
By Bryan Leech - Published on
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I discovered this work relatively early in my years of serious music appreciation and I have loved it ever since. As my musical experience and knowledge has grown, my appreciation and understanding of the brilliance of this work has continued to grow. After its composition, Tchaikovsky declared it as one of his greatest works. At a later time, he was to voice a different opinion, but this was a very common practice for Tchaikovsky.

Musicologically it is strictly not regarded as a symphony as it does not employ sonata form in its structure. But then the same could be said about a number of modern symphonies. To the listener, it looks like a symphony, and sounds like a symphony, even though it is written to the story of an epic poem, making it also a tone poem. For years I have been seeking my ideal performance of this work, a work that is possibly more technically demanding than any of the numbered symphonies. Although over the decades, it has been pushed in the background, given a receptive hearing, it emerges as among his most rewarding works.

There is no need for me to go into the musical sequence of the work, as another reviewer has done this quite thoroughly already. But before commenting as to why I regard this the best recording available, I must do what is not quite the right thing to do, and comment on other reviews.

It takes a little intelligence to see that the two star review really contributes nothing: the reviewer may have listened to much music, but appears to have gained little knowledge or understanding in the process. But I must comment on the sound of this recording, after the critical comments made elsewhere. I have been a practising musician, both conducting (amateur) and playing the piano, as well as regularly attending concerts for many years. It has always been important to me that my sound equipment used should give me as close a representation of the true sound of a performance as possible. Which has led me to invest $20,000 in a carefully chosen sound system. And on this basis, I can comment that I was very impressed with the sound quality of this release. I find no sense of the curtain between orchestra and listener, and was so impressed with the quality of sound that I wondered if Naxos had used 24-bit recording in this case. But, on comparison with known good 24-bit recordings, I believe this is probably just a good example of standard specifications used for the recording. To come out of the stratosphere, I also listened to the CD on a system costing just under $1,000 - but one chosen very carefully. My impressions of the sound quality remained the same. The recording is not given ultra-close microphone placement, a technique sometimes used to provide a greater sense of spectacle to the sound. To me the placement is ideal, giving clarity to solo playing, but good blend to ensemble sections in the music. That said, on to the performance.

The work, being based on Byron's poem which is dramatic yet reflecting a psychologically almost schizophrenic nature, is highly contrasted, demanding playing ranging from extreme delicacy and beauty, to intense dramatic power. At the same time, it should reflect the Russian qualities in Tchaikovsky's composition. In my rather large collection of performances of this work, that last aspect is often missing, as is adequate consideration of the poem on which it is based.

The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, whilst a very competent body, would not be considered, I think it fair to say, among the very best of the world's Orchestra's. But in this performance, under the hands of Petrenko, they rise to a standard I have never heard from them in the past. In quiet passages, strings take on a subtle beauty, which is also found in the interplays of the woodwind solos and elsewhere. At its full power, and I suspect players have been added to the Orchestra's normal complement, we hear Tchaikovsky at the height of his Russian passion. I must disagree with some minor comments by another reviewer, such as where some slow passages were found to be a little dragging, I found great beauty. In fact the entire performance is marked by its unity of conception, and its realization of the subtleties in the scoring.

Having given close study to those recordings I have acquired of this work over the years in my search for the ideal, I believe that in this case I have found a conductor totally in tune (no pun intended) with the score and its literary background, and an Orchestra that has risen above itself to meet the occasion. I need search for my ideal no longer.

There are probably two relatively modern recordings that offer serious competition. The Jurowski recording with the LPO is beautifully played, but I find the conductor loses the pulse of the music from time to time, and some quiet passages, rather than emerging as beautiful examples of Tchaikovsky's writing, to me are soporific. The recording also has a slightly reduced dynamic range compared to the one under review. The closest competition comes from Pletnev. This is certainly a wonderful performance, but I feel it is no better than the present one, and has more constricted sound with some slight sonic artefacts.

So after many recordings and years of searching, I have no hesitation in giving this recording a well-earned five-star rating and hope it is the source for others discovering the greatness of one of Tchaikovsky's more neglected treasures. And the rarely-heard "Voyevoda" is a well-played excellent fill.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Rich, romantic, delicious (and not fattening!) Dec 12 2009
By S. J McKenna - Published on
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I fell in love hard with the Manfred Symphony the first time I heard it live (Leonid Grin conducting) at the symphony. Since then, I have collected many Manfred CDs with different conductors seeking to recreate my experience, but I never quite got there. I thought I must have dreamt my powerful response to it.

That Manfred night, I boo-hoo-d from the moment the symphony ended, through driving myself home, and once home through trying to explain to my husband and myself what had happened to me. That is how much I was struck by this piece and the fantastic performance that was seared into my brain. And now this wonderful performance caught me in the opening phrases and held me fast until the end. It is a powerful experience.

I'm looking forward to more from Mr. Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Symphony and I am so happy to know that my treasured experience years ago was not just my imaginings. I just needed the right-for-me conductor and this is it. From the professional reviews I have read, I know I am far from alone in finding this special.
26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
On Another Planet . . . Dec 26 2008
By Gerry Katz - Published on
Format: Audio CD
I'm not sure what Santa Fe is talking about. He/she must be on another planet.

I found this to be a totally exciting, well-recorded performance of the Manfred Symphony. The climaxes are thrilling and the dramatoic parts are, well . . . dramatic.

Pay no attention to the sour Santa Fe critic. You'll love it!
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
A glorious, arch-Romantic feast of virtuosic playing Feb. 6 2012
By Ralph Moore - Published on
Format: Audio CD
Being neither strictly a symphony nor exactly a tone poem, "Manfred" is very free and episodic in construction and ranges across an enormous gamut of moods and emotions. It is of course Byronic both in inspiration and scope; its most passionate moments recall the episodes of whirling passion in my favourite of Tchaikovsky's symphonic poems, "Francesca da Rimini" but it also offers pastoral calm and Romantic yearning to create one of Tchaikovsky's most varied and febrile compositions.

I wonder why it has fallen into comparative disfavour; if any recording could revive interest it is this one. Petrenko does it again with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, making them sound like a world class orchestra, just as he has now done in several recordings. If I lived in or near Liverpool I would jump at every chance to hear them. The strings sound rich and full, the woodwind retain a pleasing rasp in late Romantic repertoire, and the sound provided by Naxos - surely 24 bit - is absolutely gripping in its warmth and immediacy. Try the entry of the organ at 17'24" for thrills; it in no way diminishes the sonorousness of the orchestra but just lifts everything on to a higher sonic plane - stunning.

Petrenko's conducting holds an essentially disparate piece together; he obviously loves the piece and his enthusiasm infects his players. The provision as a bonus of the equally rarely heard "Voyevoda" is very welcome; it is another arch-Romantic composition which often anticipates Sibelius in his most energised and liberated mode.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
A Performance that restores an important Tchaikovsky work Nov. 28 2012
By Grady Harp - Published on
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
The Manfred Symphony in B minor, Op. 58 of Tchaikovsky wanders on and off symphony repertoires like an orphaned child. Despite the fascinating history of its conception and the details of its composition, whether it is a tone poem or a symphony, whether it is the worst of Tchaikovsky or the best (Toscanini), the final decision comes only when there are performances such as this grand and emotionally charged one by Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Now the disconnect is cleared and what is present in this recording is some of Tchaikovsky's most eloquent melodies and sense of drama. It was composed between the Fourth and the Fifth Symphonies and both of those great works feel at one with this unnumbered symphony.

The work is based on Lord Byron's epic poem. The Manfred is a Faustian noble living in the Bernese Alps. Internally tortured by some mysterious guilt, which has to do with the death of his most beloved, Astarte, he uses his mastery of language and spell casting to summon seven spirits, from whom he seeks forgetfulness. The spirits, who rule the various components of the corporeal world, are unable to control past events and thus cannot grant Manfred's plea. For some time, fate prevents him from escaping his guilt through suicide. At the end, Manfred dies defying religious temptations of redemption from sin. Throughout the poem, he succeeds in challenging all authoritative powers he comes across, and chooses death over submitting to spirits of higher powers. Manfred directs his final words to the Abbot, remarking, "Old man! 'tis not so difficult to die."

The manner in which Petrenko approaches the score is less that of a tone poem than it is simply a visceral response to a poem that deals with the same fatalistic issues that faced the composer. The result is a compelling tapestry of melodic themes that ultimately weave a spell not unlike that of Byron's creation. Sp much of Tchaikovsky's views of life and death are contained here. The best way to approach this work is to sit back, in stillness, and absorb the magic Vasily Petrenko achieves. An appropriate coda to this is the inclusion of The Voyevoda, Op. 78, a "symphonic ballad" for orchestra dating form 1891 - a beautiful conclusion to a very successful recording. Grady Harp, November 12