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Highlighted release: Manfred Symphony (PENTATONE)

This week's highlight is the Manfred Symphony, with the Russian National Orchestra and conductor Mikhail Pletnev. A SACD-release by PENTATONE and one of the first to feature the rebranded artwork. The Manfred Symphony itself can be described as hermaphroditical: dubbed a 'symphony' by Tchaikovsky himself, but not receiving a number alongside the six other symphonies that the Peter Ilyich wrote.

Manfred according to Lord Byron
Based on a literary programme by the 'dark romantic' poet Lord Byron, the work is about Manfred, a 'Byronic hero'. One who combines the passion of the romantic artist with the egoism of the self-centred loner. Byron himself described the Manfred character as follows:

"[he is] a kind of magician, who is tormented by a species of remorse, the cause of which is left half unexplained. He wanders about invoking these Spirits, which appear to him, and are of no use; he at last goes to the very abode of the Evil Principle, in propriâ personâ, to evocate a ghost, which appears, and gives him an ambiguous and disagreeable answer; and in the third act, he is found by his attendants dying in a tower where he had studied his art."

The symphony is a great way to test your audio setup: wild orchestral parts are interspersed with introspective, pastoral and even shimmering movements. Even a church organ shows up towards the end. The Russian National Orchestra is a great match with Manfred, and its Conductor Laureate Mikhail Pletnev, who formed the RNO in 1990 after the collapse of the Soviet system. Warmly recommended!