Elgar and Manfred

Yesterday evening's concert at the Royal Festival Hall was given by the Philharmonia Orchestra under Vladimir Ashekenazy. First up was Elgar's romantic and lyrical Cello Concerto. The concerto, composed just after the end of the First World War, has been described as a personal elegy for the Edwardian era: as performed by Steven Isserlis it was more sombre than usual, particularly in the darkly-coloured opening movement. His cello tone seemed both slightly muffled and slightly nasal, at least where I was sitting, and even in the lighter sections of the work there was a sombre touch. If the concerto is a yearning for a vanished era it's usual played as a lyrical one - wistful and perhaps regretful: here it was perhaps more like a lament for the war itself. A legitimate approach, but one I can't say I entirely cared for, though one couldn't fault the actual musicality.

The second part of the concert consisted of Tchaikovsky's Manfred: it's described as a 'Symphony in four scenes after Byron' and is somewhere between a symphony and a tone-poem: it was never given a number to list it with his other symphonies, and has never been as well-known.

It's based on a poem by Byron: Manfred, living alone in the Alps and tortured by his incestuous love for his sister Astarte, has magical knowledge: but though he raises the spirits of hell he cannot gain the oblivion he seeks. Tchaikovsky expanded the idea to include a couple of lighter middle movements: a vision of an Alpine fairy who appears to Manfred but cannot help him, and a representation of the simple peasant life from which Manfred is forever barred. After a dramatic first movement, representing Manfred's desperation, the middle two movements come as attractive lighter relief. In the final movment the denizons of Hell perform a satanic dance (actually in Tchaikovsky's music they sound rather a jolly lot): in the interests of what Hollywood calls 'closure' Tchaikovsky departs from Byron - who condemned his anti-hero to eternal damnation - in having the ghost of Astarte forgive her brother, who can then find a peaceful death.

The music is suitably forceful and dramatically orchestrated, with some of the best of Tchaikovsky's melodic gift: and peformed with fire and conviction by the orchestra.

Posted: Fri - January 29, 2010 at 09:37 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM