NO ONE CAN SAY CBS isn't actively promoting its recording artists, and especially its young conductors. A recent shipment of review discs from CBS contained no fewer than 11 copies of Andres Davis' new recording of Dvorak's "New World" Symphony with the Philharmonia Orchestra (M 35834).
It is hard to understand all the fuss over this extremely competent but apparently not particularly distinguished conductor. This is the impression one forms from Andrew Davis' recordings (I have yet to hear a live concert under his direction) and from this one in particular.
There can be no question of his knowing the score. The performance is well organized, tempos judiciously chosen, the playing itself more than tidy. What is lacking is a sense of animation: It is all very neat and very lifeless. With Horenstein, Giulini, Ormandy, Szell, Walter, Fricsay and the other Davis (Sir Colin) in the picture -- and several of these outstanding versions on budget labels at that -- it is hard to imagine any persuasive reason for investing in this one.
Michael Tilson Thomas is another young conductor CBS has been pushing -- most recently in its new release of Tchaikovsky's "Manfred" Symphony (M 36673). To my ear, he generally shows more flair in these big romantic pieces than Andrew Davis does. Even when he is not thoroughly convincing, he usually shows a point of view and does bring the music to life.
And so he does here, exuding a sense of real involvement. This is a cogent, dramatic and generally convincing account of "Manfred," a work some regard as superior to any of Tchaikovsky's numbered symphonies, and one worth getting to know.
This version, though attractive in its own right, would not rate as a first choice among available recordings of the work. Both Vladimir Ashkenazy, conducting the New Philharmonia (London CS-7075), and Rostropovich with the London Philharmonic (Angel SZ-37297), gave us more in the way of sheer orchestral opulence as well as still greater dramatic intensity. Both also show a bit more persuasiveness in the shaping of phrases. Ashkenazy and Rostropovich together, in fact, may well persuade many listeners that no one can really get along without two recordings of "Manfred."
A most enthusiastic welcome can be given to the new recording of another seldom-heard Tchaikovsky symphony, his Third, by Bernard Haitink and the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam (Philips 9500.776; cassette 7300.850). This so-called "Polish" Symphony (the sobriquet was not affixed by the composer and makes little sense, but seems to be with us for good) is the only one Tchaikovsky wrote in a major key, and the only one in which he inserted an extra movement.
It has perhaps less claim to be considered a symphony than "Manfred" does, but it is a charming work and all its charm is handsomely realized by Haitink, whose tempo for that "extra" movement -- the especially ingratiating Alla tedesca inserted between the opening movement and the slow movement -- is especially convincing.
One might wonder why Philips, with the elegant Markevitch version already in its catalogue (Festivo 6570.162; cassette 7310.162), would bother recording this work again, but Haitink is doing a complete Tchaikovsky cycle on the full-price lable. In this work he comes incredibly close to matching Markevitch's poetic reading, and some listeners may find his tempo for the slow movement easier to take (Markevitch is very slow, though never ponderous); the newer recording, too, is a bit more sumptuous, though Markevitch's 1965 sound is still quite handsome.
While one is less likely to feel a need for two recordings of this work than for "Manfred," either the Haitink or the Markevitch really ought to be in every collection; no one is likely to be disappointed with either of them.