- Manfred Symphony, for orchestra (or piano, 4 hands) in B minor, Op. 58
Tchaikovsky's "Manfred Symphony," a tone poem based on a detailed program drawn from Lord Byron's epic poem Manfred, lasts for close to an hour and is rarely performed, although somewhat more often recorded. When conductor Semyon Bychkov proposed the present performance to the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, the players were unenthusiastic. But then, he recalls, "something wonderful happened...They began to play it with real love." It shows, on all sides. It's not too much to call this a breakthrough recording, although there have been other good ones. Partly it's that this is a difficult Tchaikovsky score, demanding perfectly controlled dynamic range on a par with that of the "Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74 (Pathétique)," and the Czech Philharmonic with all cylinders firing is still hard to touch. But it's more than orchestral virtuosity that makes this performance great: Bychkov plans out the vast arcs of the work with precision and depth. Sample the finale, with its fugue representing the discovery of the hero in the midst of a wild orgy. Critics since Tchaikovsky's time have deplored the fugue as inadequate to its subject, but with Bychkov's muscular, rather febrile reading this argument will no longer fly. The pleasures of the performance throughout are too numerous to list here, but the work of engineer Stephan Reh at the Rudolfinum in Prague should be noted. Bravo!