Tchaikovsky: Manfred Symphony, Op 58; Marche Slave, Op 31

Reviewed on Wed 27 May, 2015

Rarely has the doleful opening of Marche Slave sounded a more tragic note than it does here, and given that Tchaikovsky had the oppression of Serbs by the Turkish in mind when he wrote the work, could it be that the Latvian Nelsons was recalling unease at home when conducting it? Still, as the tempo increases and the tension with it, Tchaikovsky’s thunderous thriller gains in colour and impact. Performances of Manfred tend to fall into two camps: theatrical or introspective. Nelsons favours the latter. He’s a little halting at times (in the Moderato con moto section of the first movement), indulging the moment rather than scanning the horizon for the longer view. But it’s an unusual perspective and the lighter, more lyrical episodes make a stronger impression because of it. The scherzo might have benefited from a lighter touch, well played though it is, but the pastoral Andante is very well judged, the Birmingham strings on especially good form. Nelsons cues a compelling finale, which sounds very much ‘of a piece’ and climaxes impressively, the organ resounding with plenty of presence. A Manfred for thinkers, which is fine by me.
–Rob Cowan