HOLST: The Planets, Op. 32. MATTHEWS: Pluto.
4179: Toutalis. PINTSCHER: Towards Osiris. TURNAGE: Ceres.
DEAN: Kamarov's Fall. (plus video The Making of The
Planets & Asteroids)
BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 4 in E flat "Romantic."
GRIFFES: Roman Sketches, Op. 7. KORNGOLD: Symphonic
Serenade, Op. 39.
PADEREWSKI: Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 17. Fantaisie Polonaise for
Piano and Orchestra, Op. 19. PENDERECKI: Partita for Harpsichord.
EMI's new recording of Holst's The Planets joins other versions currently available on the label conducted by Sir Adrian Boult, Andrew Davis, André Previn, Simon Rattle before he became "Sir," and Leopold Stokowski. There surely is no lack of fine recordings of this orchestral showpiece; some years ago I wrote a "Basic Library" for Stereophile comparing almost 40 different versions including the composer's own recordings of 1923 and 1926. The new Rattle has two special features no other recordings can boast—four more planets and a video feature. Holst didn't include Pluto in his suite as the planet wasn't discovered until 1931. It would have been fascinating to hear how the composer would treat this planet which in astrology represents destruction and regeneration, death and rebirth. In 2000, Colin Matthews wrote Pluto for inclusion in the suite; most listeners feel he didn't come up to Holst's standards (see R.D.'s REVIEW of the Mark Elder recording). Rattle includes Pluto plus world premiere recordings of four rather brief new "asteroids" commissioned by the BPO from Kaija Saariaho, Matthias Pintscher, Mark-Anthony Turnage and Brett Dean, respectively called Asteroid 4179: Toutalis, Towards Osiris, Ceres, and Konarov's Fall. "Outer space" sounds abound in all of these along with a sense of mystery, but all four, along with Pluto, would probably be more effective as movie music. Holst's massive symphonic suite doesn't need these additions. The second special feature is an "enhanced element" in the form of a video, "The Making of The Planets and Asteroids." This11-minute film features Sir Simon discussing the music and includes excerpts from rehearsals for the concerts, in one of which we can see a very attractive—and accomplished— young lady tympanist—a sight unimaginable in the Karajan era. Sonically, even though made during live performances, this new EMI recording is outstanding (as was their recent Heldenleben), and the two CDs sell for the price of one.
The London Philharmonic Orchestra continues their fine series of recorded live performances with a superb disk of music of the late Sir Malcolm Arnold, all conducted by a specialist in his music, Vernon Handley, recorded during a concert in Royal Festival Hall September 24, 2004, which paid tribute to the venerable composer. Handley's Conifer recordings of all nine symphonies with the Royal Philharmonic (except No. 9, which was done in Bournemouth) have, sadly, been deleted. LPO already has issued a CD of historic recordings conducted by Eduard van Beinum which included the comic overture Beckus the Dandipratt (in which the composer can be heard playing the demanding trumpet solos) (see REVIEW); on this new disk Beckus appears again, along with a suite of music from the film The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, Symphony No. 6, the dazzling Philharmonic Concerto (written for the LPO in 1976, and the world premiere recording of Flourish for a 21st Birthday, composed in 1953 to celebrate that anniversary of the LPO. Audio quality is spectacular, as are the committed performances. Apparently there were several concerts given in the mini-Arnold festival in 2004; let us hope more of the performances given at them will be issued by LPO. Another valuable issue is Klaus Tennstedt's powerful (and beautifully played) performance of Bruckner's Symphony No. 4 recorded live at Royal Festival Hall December 14, 1989, released in tribute to Nicholas Busch, who was principal horn of the LPO 1973-2006.
ASV's issue of Griffes and Korngold is intriguing as it offers the first complete orchestral recording of the former's four Roman Sketches, Op. 7. The composer orchestrated the first and fourth (The White Peacock, Clouds), and these have been recorded several times previously, along with many versions of the original piano version. Craig Leon, who wears many hats (composer, arranger, ethnomusicologist, record producer) has worked with many prominent classical artists (Joshua Bell, James Galway, Luciano Pavarotti). Leon went back to the original piano manuscripts and made his transcriptions based on his study of the composer's other music—and he did his task superbly. These are delectable miniatures in the Impressionistic style, welcome additions to the CD catalog. Korngold's Symphonic Serenade makes an ideal companion. Premiered in 1950 with Wilhelm Furtwängler and the Vienna Philharmonic, it is a major work for large string orchestra, with typical Korngold lush harmonies and sonorities. Young conductor Simone Pittau (who began his musical career as a concert violinist) is in firm control of the LSO in these performances which have been beautifully recorded. It's unfortunate there isn't more music on the disk; less than an hour of playing time isn't much for a full-price disk.
Polish pianist Felicja Blumental is remembered by collectors for her pioneering recordings of lesser-known piano repertory. She was admired by 20th century composers including Villa-Lobos, Penderecki and Lutoslawski all of whom wrote music for her. One of these can be heard on this intriguing new Brana release: Partita for Harpsichord which was commissioned for the 50th anniversary of the Eastman School of Music and premiered there in 1971 by Blumental, to whom it is dedicated. This spiky 20-minute work is scored for harpsichord, electric guitar, bass guitar, double bass and orchestra, and we hear a fascinating work contrasting baroque styles with wild, frenzied jazz-rock frenzied outbursts. This recording was made in the Polish Radio Studio a year after the premiere, with the composer conducting. Blumental's recordings of the two Paderewski don't quite match the stunning Earl Wild versions, but surely are worthy. The primary reason to have this disk is the Penderecki. Many other Blumental recordings have been reissued on Brama—check their website: www.branarecords.com
Romanian conductor Constantin Silvestri (1913-1969) briefly was a major figure on the musical scene, known particularly for his work with the Bournemouth Symphony, which he conducted from 1962 to 1969, the year he died from cancer. He was a great favorite with recording companies, and some of his recordings are still in the catalog. This BBC Legends issue is welcome as a memento of his distinctive style. Like his compatriot Sergiu Celibidache (1912-1996), he insisted on extensive rehearsals. Silvestri always conducted without score and apparently was often difficult to deal with, although when things went the way he wished, he was effusive in his praise. At the time of these recordings, the Bournemouth Symphony's playing wasn't always precise, and these performances surely would not be among first choices for collectors. This is a dynamic account of Tchaikovsky's Little Russian, although not immaculately played. Silvestri's unusual interpretation of Enescu's Romanian Rhapsody. recorded in Royal Festival Hall November 22, 1966, is eccentric to put it mildly; you will not hear another performance like it. Is it right? You decide. All other recordings were made in Bournemouth's Winter Gardens from 1965 to 1968. The BBC's mono recordings are well-balanced if rather dry acoustically (the Arnold overture is in stereo).
R.E.B. September 2006)