Arte Nova are building an impressive number of releases
in their catalogue, some of which are superb. This, I am afraid is not
one of them. This is not because there is anything wrong with the current
issue, it is simply because you can get much, much better at a little
Stanislav Skrowaczeski has had plenty of experience
with British music (he was in charge of the Hallé for a number
of years), but his German orchestra, superb in the company’s Bruckner
releases, does not seem to be completely at home in the repertoire.
The playing, although perfectly satisfactory in terms of accuracy and
pitch, is somewhat gentle in approach – more fire would have been better.
At budget price, Naxos has a stunning disc of the Elgar, and there are
also many other similarly priced issues, conducted by Barbirolli, Boult,
Mackerras etc., all of which would give the purchaser a far better view
of Elgar’s favourite orchestral work.
As for the Britten Piano Concerto we can have the dedicatee
(Richter), with the composer conducting, on London at mid-price. Although
the recording is of 1971 vintage, it was made in Snape, with the wonderful
acoustics there, captured by Decca engineers who at the time were among
the finest in the world. The results as released on the London CD issue
are superb. No contest once again, I am afraid.
Playing any of the older recordings, we enter an entirely
different sound world, and begin to appreciate Elgar’s inspiration in
terms of orchestral colour and vitality of spirit.
When it comes to the Britten, the balance between pianist
and orchestra is slightly different, with the smaller orchestra and
soloist being recorded relatively close up. With the current issue there
is a more concert hall perspective, which perhaps to some extent, reinforces
the somewhat coy atmosphere compared to the earlier disc. This is a
characteristic of many modern performances which, I suspect might be
a contributory cause of the downturn in the music industry.
There are four movements, Toccata, Waltz, Impromptu
and March, and these play for just over half an hour. The timings between
the two performances are similar in all movements apart from the Impromptu,
which is almost a minute shorter in the new recording. It was first
performed at the 1938 Proms with the composer as soloist. The toccata
is one of Britten’s longest and most serious essays in sonata form.
The remaining movements Waltz, Impromptu (replacing the original Recitative
and Aria) and final March show Britten producing a suite like work,
rather than a fully structured piano concerto.
Now for the positive values – the budget price is very
low, and if this is the coupling you require, the Arte Nova disc will
be quite satisfactory. It appears to be the only recording offering
this coupling. The piano playing of Robert Leonardy is fine, but he
is no match for Richter. Like the Elgar, the overall impression is of
being slightly laid back. Nevertheless, the disc is easily listened
There are respectable though short notes, and the presentation
is good. In retrospect, it is as if the performers are performing what
they are superb at – Bruckner – Nimrod is slow and romantic – a very
good example of what I am talking about.