Classical Reissue Reviews

SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 4; DEBUSSY: Le Martyre de Saint Sebastien – Suite; La Mer – Philharmonia Orch./ Guido Cantelli – ICA Classics

A splendid reissue of the meteoric conducting of Cantelli, including his signature La Mer.

Published on February 18, 2013

SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 4; DEBUSSY: Le Martyre de Saint Sebastien – Suite; La Mer – Philharmonia Orch./ Guido Cantelli – ICA Classics

SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 4 in D Minor, Op. 120; DEBUSSY: Le Martyre de Saint Sebastien – Suite; La Mer – Philharmonia Orch./ Guido Cantelli – ICA Classics mono ICAC 5081, 67:16 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

The meteoric conducting talent of Guido Cantelli (1920-1956) finds splendid representation in this 9 September 1954 concert from Usher Hall, Edinburgh Festival in which he leads his beloved Philharmonia Orchestra of London, with Manoug Parikian, leader. The live performance of the Schumann Fourth Symphony took place a year after Cantelli and the Philharmonia made their EMI recording, The energetic impetus of the conception never falters, and the alternation of accelerated and deliberately paced tempos bespeaks a flexible tradition in Cantelli that held taut balance between the Toscanini and the Furtwaengler traditions. The first movement delineates the musical periods with a dominant tympani part, an effect the symphony’s finale will exploit. Parikian provides lucid and transparent tissue in the Romanze’s solo sections; then, with the same tempered approach to transition, Cantelli builds a marvelous tension to the explosion of the Lebhaft portion of the final movement. Both roof and patrons rise up at the last chords, a superheated response to a most audacious realization of Schumann’s cyclic powerhouse. A pity, the opening Manfred Overture has been lost to posterity.

Andre Caplet assembled the assorted fragments symphoniques from Debussy’s 1911 Le Martyre de Saint Sebastien, whose music (after the mystery play by Gabriele d’Annunzio) moves in trembling tensions between Images and Jeux. The Philharmonia string and trumpet sections bring a resonant poise to the proceedings, quite virtuosic in their often subdued then convulsive outcries. The sense of subtle hues and colors in the scoring that Cantelli elicits proves quite mesmeric, and a hushed audience manages to savor the particular riches of the La Passion movement. The harmonies of the final scene, Le Bon Pasteur, bear a resemblance – though Debussy might resent the comparison – to those we find in Wagner’s Parsifal. Olin Downes called Le Martyre “some of the most poignant and lofty music that Debussy ever wrote.” Cantelli urges the truth of this appraisal, and the Edinburgh audience concurs.

The seascape La Mer came to be a Cantelli calling-card. This performance predates Cantelli’s commercial recording for EMI by four days. In his rhythms and coloristic detail, Cantelli closely conforms to much of the no-nonsense Toscanini model, though the lovely sound the Philharmonia produces outshines the Toscanini effort from Studio 8-H in New York. Parikian’s sultry violin initiates a series of sirens’ calls for our delectation and temptation. The transparent colloquy between sun, waves, and flying birds has melded with sinuous care into a Dawn Till Noon at Sea with remarkable sensuousness. Parikian makes sparks in the Jeux de vagues, a movement rife with ecstatic and virile elan, an improvisational impetus that cannot be denied. The waves swell before our eyes, the eddies call to us, the sea air invites us. Brass and harp insinuate those colors that impel our submerging into the unknown. The last movement, the Dialogue of Wind and Sea, proves as ominous as it heroic. From the outset, Cantelli establishes a basic pulsation that only gathers power and inevitability as the forces of Nature convene and collide.

—Gary Lemco




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