Classical Reissue Reviews

HOLST: The Planets; BRITTEN: Variations & Fugue on a Theme of Purcell – Ladies of the BBC Chorus/ BBC Sym. Orch./ Gennadi Rozhdestvensky – ICA Classics

Russian maestro Gennadi Rozhdestvensky seems to trump the British at their own standard repertory in these intensely explosive readings of two classics.

Published on June 19, 2012

HOLST: The Planets; BRITTEN: Variations & Fugue on a Theme of Purcell – Ladies of the BBC Chorus/ BBC Sym. Orch./ Gennadi Rozhdestvensky – ICA Classics

HOLST: The Planets, Op. 32; BRITTEN: Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell, Op. 34 – Ladies of the BBC Chorus/ BBC Symphony Orchestra/ Gennadi Rozhdestvensky – ICA Classics ICAC 5053, 68:07 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

The ability of Russian-born musicians to transform their styles, like chameleons, into the national personae of others remains a pure example of artistic alchemy. The generalization proves true in the examples of both the late Evgeny Svetlanov and Gennadi Rozhdestvensky (b. 1931), the latter of whom assumed the helm of the BBC Symphony 1978-1981. He then migrated to the Vienna Symphony and the Stockholm Philharmonic. But even prior to his appointment to the BBC, Rozhdestvensky had made spectacular points with the British audience with British repertory, as is the case of the Holst The Planets Suite, performed at London’s Royal Festival Hall, 12 March 1980. BBC cellist Charles Martin commented that Rozhdestvensky embodied the past master at his baton technique, and he accomplished much of his seemingly spontaneous effects through little discussion but merely by dint of his stick, “for purely musical reasons.”

In both scores, the Holst and the Britten (this performed in Festival Hall, Osaka, Japan, 1 June 1981), the emphasis lies in non-sentimental readings of explicitly virtuoso vehicles for the extraordinary wind and brass players of the BBC. The extroverted colors of The Planets, especially its “Jupiter” sequence with its own grand hymn theme, assumes a hearty resonance, a full-blooded Technicolor spectacle that neither pines nor languishes in nostalgia. Rozhdesvensky’s pianissimi prove as potent as his lavish crescendos, especially in the last two bits of interstellar mystery, “Uranus” and “Neptune.” The quicksilver figures in “Mercury” convey Mendelssohn’s impishness colored by the convention of “jolly good fun.”

Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra could hardly receive a less “didactic” reading: rather than a conscious application of orchestral choirs to a specific tune from Purcell, the regal march undergoes an organic series of transformations that pits blocks of sound against densities and colors much in the Pierre Boulez, deconstructionist mode, especially given the freedom of the BBC battery. In both instances, the Holst and the Britten receive such a consistent level of focus and sonorous energy, it becomes virtually impossible to resort to others’ interpretations. Two old pieces of United Kingdom wine poured into Russian-crafted bottles! Sometimes less commentary is more: definitely Best of the Year vintage, these performances.

—Gary Lemco




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