MAHLER: Symphony No. 5 in C# minor
ANTILL: An Outback Overture. Corroboree Ballet
BRANCO: Symphony No. 1. Scherzo Fantastique. Suite Alentejana, No. 1
ALWYN: Overture to a Masque. Concerto Grosso No. 1 in B flat. Pastoral
Fantasia. Five Preludes. Tragic Interlude. Autumn Legend. Suite of Scottish
With more than eighty recordings currently available of Mahler's Symphony No. 5, including 3 by Claudio Abbado, 2 by Leonard Bernstein, and 3 by Bernard Haitink, as well as superlative recordings by Barbirolli, Chailly, Solti and Bruno Walter, yet another might seem unnecessary. However this new one, recorded live in London's Royal Festival Hall January 16, 2008, is a worthy addition to those mentioned. Dutch conductor Jaap Van Zweden began his musical career as the youngest concertmaster in the history of the Concertgebouw Orchestra, and began his conducting career in 1995. Van Zweden first came to my attention several years ago via a dynamic broadcast performance of The Rite of Spring with the Hague Residency Orchestra of which he was chief conductor. This is a magnificent performance of the Mahler Fifth, and the fact that it was recorded live on one date shows the incredible virtuosity of the London Philharmonic, particularly in the brass section. Sonically, this is one of the finest recordings I've heard from the Royal Festival Hall, not as opulent as Royal Albert Hall, but with rich strings and wide dynamic range. Look into this one!
Australian composer John Antill (1904-1986) is best-known for his exciting Corroboree ballet composed in 1946. It's based on native Aboriginal ceremonies with that name, dances describing legends and demons, with the dancers' bodies covered with vividly colored designs. Rich in unusual percussion effects, Antill's score is reminiscent of Stravinsky's Rite, although the composer claims he never heard it before writing his barbaric score. Conductor Eugene Goossens championed this music and made a famous recording of a suite from it, mentioned on this site (REVIEW). Unfortunately his Everest recording with the LSO is no longer available ( we can hope for a reissue on ArkivMusic), and, even more important, a reissue of the short-lived Everest SACD issue that offered the stunning recording in the original three-track sound—this recording was selected for our Sonic Hall of Fame (REVIEW). Naxos' new recording is admirable in every way, important in that is contains what appears to be the complete score with playing time of 41:09; the Goosens recording is but 23:30. The performance is excellent in every way with conductor James Judd in total command of the huge orchestra and the many exotic percussion instruments. Of minor interest is the pleasant An Outdoor Overture, written in 1954. The reason to acquire this CD is Corroboree, and we suggest you do so. Sonic quality is up to the Naxos usual high standard.
Another comprehensive series from Naxos has begun with this first of four disks of music by Luís de Freitas Branco (1890-1955). Considered to be the major Portuguese composer of the first half of the century, his writing was strongly influenced by the Impressionists and César Franck. On this site S.G.S. has already reviewed a recording of his Symphony No. 2 (see REVIEW). The Naxos CD features Symphony No. 1 dating from 1924, along with his earliest work, Scherzo Fantastique dating from 1907, one year before Stravinsky composed his, and the first of two suites based on folk songs of the Alentejo. The third of the three movements, Fandango, is the most popular symphonic work of Portugal. The Irish orchestra plays very well indeed under Álvaro Cassuto's direction, and audio is excellent.
Recently on this site we mentioned Volume V in the Naxos William Alwyn edition, and now we have the next in the series. This features music in a lighter vein with the exception of the ominous Tragic Interlude, which started life as a string quartet in 1936 but was adapted for larger forces after Alwyn read Richard Aldington's novel Death of a Hero, the author's response to the Great War 1914-1918. Other works on the CD include the premiere recording of the early (1927) Five Preludes, the exquisite Pastoral Fantasia for viola and strings, and the lovely Autumn Legend for English Horn and strings, ending with 7 sprightly Scottish dances. As in previous releases, the RLPO and conductor David Lloyd-Jones are ideal in this music, with splendid sonics as well.
R.E.B. (July 2008)