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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    




Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
The Four Symphonies

Symphony No. 1 Spring (1841) [30.50]
Symphony No. 2 (1846) [37.09]
Symphony No. 3 Rhenish (1850) [32.57]
Symphony No. 4 (1841) [29.34]
Genoveva Overture [9.17]
Manfred Overture (1849) [11.56]
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Rafael Kubelik
rec Berlin, 1963, 1964, stereo, ADD
Two discs each available separately
ELOQUENCE Deutsche Grammophon 463 200-2 [78.06] (symphonies 1-2)
ELOQUENCE Deutsche Grammophon 463 201-2 [75.14] (symphonies 3-4)

 

 

 

 

Universal Australia have shown real acumen in launching and developing their Eloquence line; all the more so when faced with the staggering choice available across the DG, Decca and Philips catalogues. True they must have had to restrict themselves to material no later than early 1980s and I am sure that there must have been other constraints also. Even so there was so much from which to choose. A true embarrasse de richesse.

These Kubeliks are 1960s analogue recordings. The civilised sound obtained has been a byword for DG especially as in this case where we have the BPO in their own Philharmonie - an acoustic to which the DG (in those days they sported the extra 'G' to make it Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft - DGG) engineers returned with long practised skills. The sound is well contoured and homogenised without or blandness loss of character. The hiss endemic to such analogue documents is extremely low and even. It is not an issue.

Kubelik gives blessedly sane readings with a really warm big Brahmsian sound drawn from an orchestra having received temporary manumission from Karajan. The works are well known so I will not dwell on them in detail.

The string sound is kindly and very muscular - well advocating the meaty unanimity of this great orchestra. The brass and especially the French Horns are wondrous though such is their refinement that they do not obtrude. These are readings you can live with and learn from.

Kubelik is no slouch in the dramatic moments as in the rolling ruddy sunset uproar at the end of the Rhenish. In the Fourth Symphony note the touching hesitancy and nicely judged terracing of emphasis in the lebhaft (III) at 5.20. Kubelik chooses to avoid the wilder abandon of Szell in his famous CBS/Sony set in the finale of No. 4. Lest you think I imply that Kubelik is dull - no such thing. Try the last three minutes of No. 4 or the sheet lightning of the sabre-slash massed violins at 2.40 of the Manfred Overture if you want to check this out for yourself. The modest and downbeat end of the Overture would have better fitted it as the first track on this disc.

The Spring Symphony recalls the revolutionary geist of Coriolan and Egmont with determined rhythmic material from Beethoven's Seventh. The opening brass admonition sounds like a sketch for the 'fate' fanfares from Tchaikovsky's Fourth. I have heard the horns rolled with more prominence than at 1.54 in the finale which was a little disappointing. Otherwise Kubelik can inject an animated hustle with classic style. 'Hustle' well describes the impatient brittle dazzle which presses the music forward in the tumbling breathlessness of the Scherzo of the Second Symphony. The orchestra excels in this flickering virtuosity which made me wonder what this might have sounded like if Nikolai Golovanov had been conducting the Berlin PO. The Second is a good account but I have warm memories of Georg Solti's Decca recording of this work to which this is not the superior.

Many readers sharing my roots in the Jurassic age will know these Kubelik/BPO readings from LPs - latterly on the Contour label as CC7532, 7537, 7538; also on DG 2535: 116, 117, 118.

Kubelik went on to record the symphonies (with Manfred) for a second time. This was with CBS. That time his orchestra was the Bavarian Radio SO. I have not heard that set (CBS 79324 (3)) but I remember that at least one reviewer condemned it for roughnesses of execution and coarse sound.

These Eloquence discs are likely to be difficult to pick up from conventional sources in Europe and the USA. They can be easily sourced in Australasia. For the rest of us an enquiry over the internet to www.buywell.com or to Seaford Music in the UK should cover the point.

The price from Buywell in GBP is 3.33. Of course you might have to pay import duty and you will have to pay postage but it won't cost you more than a Naxos at your usual retailer.

Rob Barnett

Avaiablility www.buywell.com

 


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