Leonard Slatkin is an exceptionally versatile conductor, but it is perhaps in French repertoire of the 19th and 20th centuries that he feels most comfortable. The singers in Ravel's exquisitely formed little comic opera L'Heure espagnole, complete with cheating lovers hidden inside grandfather's clocks carried up and down stairs, are all entirely appropriate and admirably clear, but it is really Slatkin who's the star here, right from the "Introduction" that's so artfully linked to what follows. Ravel here cultivates a kind of updated accompanied recitative, well matched to his stated goal of reviving the old tradition of Italian opera buffa.
Nowadays, Tchaikovsky’s 1st 3 symphonies seldom appear on the concert programmes, whereas his symphonies 4 to 6 – in other words, the symphonies generally recognized as masterpieces – are regularly included. Thus the 3 early symphonies share a fate that none of them have necessarily earned. After all, each in its own individual way is a worthwhile symphony: the composer certainly did not consider them to be preliminary works, a type of precursor to the later symphonies. From 1866 to 1878, Tchaikovsky taught harmony at the Moscow Conservatoire & during this period, he composed – among other works – his 1st 3 symphonies, namely in 1866, 1872, & 1875. For Tchaikovsky, the journey leading to the symphony was not easy: on the contrary, he trod a painful path before tapping into this high-end genre.
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Manfred is a hermaphrodite – at least, as far as the music is concerned. For although the work (dating from 1885) was indeed dubbed by its creator as a symphony, it still did not receive a number alongside Tchaikovsky’s further six contributions to the category. And thus it was – and has still to some extent remained – “draped” over a stool, as it were: isolated in Tchaikovsky’s oeuvre somewhere between the categories of the symphony and the symphonic poem. Nevertheless, Manfred is definitely based on a literary programme. And what a programme – the eponymous dramatic poem written by the “dark romantic” poet, Lord Byron. Tchaikovsky devoted himself to this and to its eponymous hero with zeal, and seemed to even somewhat transform himself into Manfred during the intensive period of work. After all, he was also suffering from inner torment.