Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 3, Shostakovich: Symphony No. 6 [André Previn, London Symphony Orchestra]

Composer(s):Sergei Rachmaninov
Conductor: Andr¨¦Previn
Orchestra: London Symphony Orchestra
Label: EMI
Catalog #: CDM 7 69564 2
Format: CD
Time: 75:05 min

A generous, if unlikely, coupling valuable above all for Previn's quite exceptional account of the Rachmaninov. It's a performance that breathes with and through the music: ebb and flow, colour and cast, that peculiar brand of melancholy¡ªall are beautifully conveyed. The nostalgic horn solo at the opening of the second movement still lingers in my mind. Here is true repose¡ªPrevin gives his soloist all the time in the world¡ªpoetic and hugely evocative, and as the yearning violin line grows from it, one is reminded yet again that the LSO of the day really were the perfect orchestra for this music. Their showy highgloss string sound, their bright keen-edged winds, are both such an asset in profiling this sparer and quirkier late Rachmaninov (the strange coloration of celeste¡ªan important feature of the orchestration¡ªand the resourceful deployment of harp and percussion tell most effectively).
The Shostakovich is less convincing. Previn's pacing is sure and purposeful, the desolate terrain of the spacious (in this instance very spacious) first movement is most atmospherically charted. But one looks for a colder, steelier intensity at times, and I think Previn, to some extent, underplays the contradictory shock-tactics of the second and third movements. I am not entirely sold on his deliberate, though undeniably trenchant, account of the scherzo, while the finale's circus-antics are to my mind neither sufficiently presto nor uncouth enough. The Rachmaninov, though, is a must, and both digital remasterings sound well.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Weber: Clarinet Concertos - Paul Meyer [Herbig, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra]

Composer(s):Carl Maria von Weber
Conductor: Günther Herbig
Orchestra: Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Label: Denon
Catalog #: DCO-79551
Format: CD
Time: 50 min

Paul Meyer gives fresh, spirited performances of Weber's three works for clarinet and orchestra, which fit comfortably on to a single disc as in other couplings (including those listed above). He has nimble fingers and a bright, silvery tone that indicates his French training (was it at his insistence that the Royal Philharmonic horns assume a strong vibrato on the last chords of the First Concerto's opening movement?). He also knows the works very thoroughly, which is to say that he does not merely despatch his own part with proper virtuosity and sensitivity: he understands the nature of the music and its structure, so in the Rondo Allegretto finale of No. 1 he can seem personally to force the key down from B flat to G flat, and in the Alla Polacca finale of No. 2 listen and respond to the various orchestral solos (including the brief cello solo, often, but not here, overlooked by engineers). He and Gunther Herbig are on the whole close, though there are times when Meyer seems to be forcing the brilliance beyond Herbig's natural inclinations.
The note describes in some detail Weber's relationship with his favoured clarinettist Heinrich Bdrmann, for whom the works were written, without mentioning that the versions played (with a few minor alterations) are those of Bdrmann's son and grandson, both named Carl Barmann. The differences are quite marked, though they do not seriously work against the spirit of the music; but it ought to be declared what is being played. Those with Eulenburg miniature scores will find little to surprise them; the original versions have been edited by Pamela Weston for Fentone Music, and include good and thorough forewords. J.W.