"A splendid entrance"
Tchaikovsky: Manfred Symphony in B minor op. 58
Dmitri Kitaenko is well on the way to making the Cologne Gürzenich Orchestra specialists in Russian music. Honorary Conductor of the Gürzenich Orchestra since 2009, he has already worked on a highly acclaimed Shostakovich cycle, followed by a complete recording of Prokofiev’s symphonies, which is widely considered ground-breaking. Dmitri Kitaenko is currently working on further sharpening the Gürzenich Orchestra's profile in the Russian symphonic repertoire as he continues with the symphonies of Pyotr Tchaikovsky with the same ensemble. Fortunately, the complete symphonic work, appearing on OehmsClassics as a hybrid SACD, also contains the Manfred Symphony in B minor op. 58, a work often omitted from Tchaikovsky collections. Here the work even opens Kitaenko's symphonic cycle.
Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony offers many challenges for interpreters. On the one hand it creates good opportunities to present effectively the qualities of an orchestra, but on the other it can easily become fragmented into its individual components. (…) These disparate components which determine the musical structure of the work also provide more than a few problems of interpretation. To create an artistic whole despite all these contrasting features requires a great deal of skill and a clear overview. Vasily Petrenko has demonstrated one convincing interpretation of the Manfred Symphony, running the engine at full throttle and loading every demisemiquaver with dynamite. Or – and I am even a bit more persuaded by this - you can choose the path adopted by Kitaenko; with a careful overview of this hour-long symphony he devotes as much care to shaping long phrases and transitions (like in the powerfully performed transition to the Lento section in the Finale) as to the thematic elements. At the same time the concisely formulated musical figures never escape from view but are modelled in a compact way, artfully and expertly taking the orchestral balance into account. Dmitri Kitaenko strikes up tempi which tend to be on the slower side. But this gives him – and above all the musicians – space to catch and to draw out moods beautifully in terms of colour. That pays off not least in the second movement where the shimmering woodwind appear fragrantly and where the string theme also sings out exquisitely and sensitively with a natural lyricism.
Above all, Kitaenko establishes a strong sense of balance (between the upper and lower registers!) within the orchestra throughout. (…) And finally, the simply outstanding sound technology (in CD and SACD formats) allows the listener to savour both the dynamic extremes and the subtle shifts in colour as well as the absolutely ecstatic demonic percussion entry at the end of the first movement. The orchestra proves to be a wonderfully nuanced ensemble, above all in the colours of the individual sections. That Kitaenko does not allow the organ to appear in the Finale at full strength but conceives it as an additional dynamically equal colour to that of the orchestra is logical, and not only on the basis that Tchaikovsky indicates either a harmonium or an organ in the score. In this way he also avoids the emotional flourish which would otherwise give the piece a halo ill-becoming the end of “Manfred”.
Tobias Pfleger, klassik.com, 2 June 2011