Classical Reissue Reviews

London Symphony Orchestra (1904-2004): The Centennial Set = WEBER: Oberon Overture; BERLIOZ: King Lear Overture, Op. 4; Benvenuto Cellini Overture and Act I Trio, and more


Published on May 19, 2005

London Symphony Orchestra (1904-2004): The Centennial Set = WEBER: Oberon Overture; BERLIOZ: King Lear Overture, Op. 4; Benvenuto Cellini Overture and Act I Trio, and more
London Symphony Orchestra (1904-2004): The Centennial Set = WEBER:
Oberon Overture; BERLIOZ: King Lear Overture, Op. 4; Benvenuto Cellini
Overture and Act I Trio; BEETHOVEN: Coriolan Overture, Op. 62; DVORAK:
Symphony No. 6 in D, Op. 60; SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 6 in C; Symphony
No. 8 in b Minor; TCHAIKOVSKY: Romeo and Juliet Overture; Symphony No.
5 in E Minor, Op. 64; STRAVINSKY: Petrouchka Ballet; BERG: 3 Pieces for
Orchestra, Op. 6; ELGAR: Cockaigne Overture; DEBUSSY: Jeux

Arthur Nikisch conducts (Oberon); Josef Krips conducts (Schubert 6th);
Sir Hamilton Harty conducts (King Lear); Bruno Walter conducts
(Coriolan); Istvan Kertesz conducts (Dvorak 6th; Schubert 8th); Claudio
Abbado conducts (Berg); Michael Tilson-Thomas conducts (Jeux); Sir
Colin Davis conducts (Benvenuto Cellini); Pierre Monteux conducts
(Romeo and Juliet); Sir Georg Solti conducts (Petrouchka, Tchaikovsky
5th); Sir Andre Previn conducts (Elgar)

Andante AN 4 100 76:06; 64:19; 79:16; 77:23 (Distrib. Naxos)****:

Sir Colin Davis refers to the London Symphony Orchestra as “the casual
virtuoso,” a fitting epithet for a gifted ensemble of splendid,
individual players whose good humor is as famous as its brilliant
sound. Formed in 1904 as a reaction to an ultimatum from Sir Henry Wood
to his own Queen’s Hall Orchestra about deputy replacements for
rehearsals, the LSO became the UK’s first orchestra to be governed and
managed by the players themselves. The original ninety-nine players had
Hans Richter as their first conductor. Arthur Nikisch (1855-1922)
served as Principal Conductor 1912-1914, also making the first records
with the orchestra. The 1914 Oberon under Nikisch, in spite of the
stingy acoustics of the recording horn, captures the conductor’s
penchant for brisk, strict tempos and some fine execution from the
orchestra principals.

Sir Hamilton Harty (1879-1941) remains a sensitive purveyor of Berlioz,
whose more comprehensive survey with the Halle and London Philharmonic
orchestras has been on Pearl (CD 9485). Harty’s 1935 King Lear Overture
in its CD debut comes as a bit of a let-down technically, although the
diaphanous color of the ensemble makes some good points. Bruno Walter
(1876-1962) made recordings with several London ensembles, particularly
after his ugly exile from Austria in 1938. His recording of the
Coriolan Overture has cohesiveness and power, as well as a warmth
deriving from the players&Mac226; great respect for Walter the
musician. Disc one ends with Josef Krips (1902-1974), who had served as
Principal Conductor 1950-1954. The 1948 Schubert Sixth has a
homogeneous Viennese sound, quite expressive given the somewhat cramped
acoustic of the recording. Deft figurations in the last movement make
the performance a find for collectors.

The CD devoted to the leadership of Istvan Kertesz (1929-1973) may well
be the piece de resistance, with the willful Hungarian’s commanding a
muscular yet eminently lyrical Dvorak Sixth from 1 September 1966, with
a buoyant Furiant and rousing finale. The atmospheric Schubert
Unfinished comes from the same concert. Horn Barry Tuckwell spent
considerable time lavishing praise on Kertesz, whose only faux pas was
with management, wishing to exert full authority (as Music Director
rather than as Principal Conductor) on personnel, while the LSO
remained adamant as a self-governing body, so they parted ways in 1968.
Sir Georg Solti (nee Stern, 1912-1997 ), Tuckwell did not like
especially, despite Solti’s strong musicianship. “It was like playing
for a Chicago gangster, so little personal warmth did he communicate,”
proffered Tuckwell. Still, the 7 August 1994 concert contains two
electric performances: of the Stravinsky Petrouchka (1911 version) and
the Tchaikovsky Fifth, literalist to the nth degree, but no less
compelling for their fierce drive and brilliant sonic patina. Although
neither Carlos Kleiber nor Leonard Bernstein has representation here,
the appearance of Michael Tilson-Thomas (b. 1944) extends something of
the Bernstein influence; always imaginative in his choice of
programming for the orchestra, the 27 February 1997 Jeux is a pastiche
of shifting rhythms and accents, with myriad color-effects to manage in
what still remains a most elusive score. We might be reminded that
another venerable colorist, Sergiu Celibidache, is conspicuous by his
absence on these discs.

Claudio Abbado (b. 1933) succeeded Andre Previn as Principal Conductor
in 1979, bringing his searching intellect and passion for the
modernists, starting with a penchant for Mahler and the Second Viennese
School. The 8 December 1970 Berg Abbado recorded for DGG, partly to
show off the orchestra’s dynamic control and lucidity of individual
textures. Previn (b. 1929) himself appears in the music of Elgar, here
from the 1975 Salzburg Festival, where the LSO was making its second
appearance, with a rousing opener via the Cockaigne Overture on August
3. The collaboration with Pierre Monteux (1875-1964) in the Romeo and
Juliet Overture of Tchaikovsky made a happy re-discovery some years
ago, when Vanguard unearthed the 31 May 1963 performance as part of an
all-Tchaikovsky concert that also featured pianist John Ogden in the
B-flat Concerto. Finally, Sir Colin Davis (b. 1927) in the Overture and
Act I Trio from Benvenuto Cellini (5 December 1999), with vocal
assistance from Giuseppe Sabbatini, Elizabeth Futral, and Laurent
Naouri, the vocal melodies courtesy of the Roman Carnival Overture. A
fascinating and often captivating set, where a second volume might
fulfill yet fairer hopes!

- Gary Lemco




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