BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 3 in D minor. Symphony No. 4 in E flat "Romantic."
SCHUMANN: Scenes from Goethe's Faust
CAGE: Sixteen Dances
Here are two major releasers in the Royal Concertgebouw Live series. Both are two-disk sets issued at premium price. Producers elected to issue the two Bruckner symphonies in one set instead of separately. Both were taken from performances in the Concertgebouw. It seems rather odd that Symphony No 3 is edited from concerts in February 2007 and August 2008; Symphony No. 4 dates from four concerts in September 2008. Producers are not clear about which edition of No. 3 is used; they list the 1889 version as well as the Nowak 1959 version. No. 4 is presented in the usual Nowak version, although Jansons adds an unwritten cymbal at a climax in the fourth movement. Of course both symphonies are magnificently played by the mighty Concertgebouw, but Jansons' direction seems rather neutral, micromanaging every bar. The grandeur of the "Romantic" somehow is missing, and the live recording has the horns, so important throughout this work, quite recessed.
The Schumann is of greater interest, recorded during five performances in April 2008 in the Concertgebouw —although notes oddly include a photo from a rehearsal. Schumann's Scenes from Goethe's Faust was composed 1844-1853 and is considered to be among his finest works, surely his best for chorus. Benjamin Britten conducted the first recording in 1972 and since that time other major conductors have performed it including Pierre Boulez, and Claudio Abbado who made a now-deleted recording. Schumann's approach to Goethe's score is intimate—don't expect the fireworks of Berlioz. It is rather like listing to an evening of lieder. Harnoncourt is a master of this repertory and obviously has great interest in resurrecting neglected works: he already has recorded the composer's Das Paradies und die Peri (REVIEW). This performance of Faust is exquisite in every way, and audio quality could hardly be bettered. Should you be looking for a recording of this, here it is, perhaps definitively.
From the near-sublime to the ridiculous. BMOP has issued this performance by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project directed by Gil Rose of "Sixteen Dances" by John Cage. This dates from the early 1950's when Cage collaborated with the late Merce Cunningham on a "big new piece" with this title. According to CD notes, in this "music" Cage uses chance, a new approach to musical composition, utilizing charts on which he wrote rhythmic structures. Scoring is for flute, trumpet, four percussionists, piano, violin and cello. Each "dance" is quite short, and all have titles, including Anger, Humor, Sorrow, The Heroic, The Odious, The Wondrous and The Erotic, but all sound pretty much the same - a plink here, a plunk there along with some percussive bits, and a neurotic cat walking on the piano. All of this has been very well recorded, but doubtless it would be more effective to watch a performance with the unusual costumes described in CD notes. Skip this one.
R.E.B. (November 2009)