> de Sabata conducts-Naxos [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Victor de Sabata (1892-1967)
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)

Fireworks Op 4 (1908)
Alexander MOSSOLOV (1900-1973)

Iron Foundry Op 19 (1926-28)
Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)

From the Middle Ages – Symphonic Suite Op 79 (1903);
1. Troubadour’s Song
2. Scherzo
Victor de SABATA (1892-1967)

Juventus (1919)
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Symphony No 6 Op 68 Pastoral (1808)
Turin Orchestra of the Italian Broadcasting Authority (all except Beethoven) recorded Turin December 1933.
Rome Santa Cecilia Academy Orchestra (Beethoven) recorded Teatro Argentina, Rome January and February 1947
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110859 [71.07]

This latest release in Naxos’s Great Conductors series usefully and pertinently turns the spotlight on Victor de Sabata’s earliest recordings – the small series of discs made for Italian Parlophon during a three-day period in Turin in December 1933. Added to which is the much better known Pastoral Symphony, recorded in Rome in 1947. As Mark Obert-Thorn’s Producer’s Note explains de Sabata also recorded the Act II Intermezzo from Wolf-Ferrari’s I Quattro rusteghi at the earlier session, a performance never issued and now presumably lost. Whilst he was subsequently to re-record it for HMV the other titles here are discographically unique as far as he was concerned and this is especially important in the case of de Sabata’s own Juventus.

He had quite a lot to contend with in the recording studio of the Turin broadcasting authority. A dead room acoustically - and small - with a commensurately small body of strings, this is especially noticeable in the Stravinsky, which suffers from a lack of body and depth. Quite a novelty for the time Fireworks had already been recorded by Kleiber in Berlin and by Gabriel Pierné conducting the Colonne Orchestra. The Mossolov – or Mosolov – was certainly one of the earliest recordings, if not the first, of this Futurist exercise (Ehrlich recorded it with the Paris Symphony and, perhaps improbably … perhaps not … Arthur Fiedler had a go with his Boston forces). De Sabata has the measure of its driving implacability. Perhaps the most delightfully played of the four surviving pieces from these early sessions are the two movements drawn from the Glazunov symphonic suite From the Middle Ages. I think Sevitzky and the Indianapolis Orchestra had beaten de Sabata to the honour of pioneers here – especially as they’d recorded the whole four-movement suite – but de Sabata brings real expressive freedom to the Troubadour’s Song, lacing the delicious music with succulence and opulent portamenti and in the ensuing Scherzo catching the nasality and archaisms to perfection. A pity the clinking percussion is so terribly over-recorded but that was one of the liabilities of the Turin set-up.

De Sabata’s own Juventus, something of a compositional calling card for him as a younger man, is written up in the notes here as a Korngold inspired affair. It’s true that the work was conducted by Toscanini – de Sabata was later to conduct at the older man’s funeral in 1957 – but, more relevantly, by Strauss, who must surely have benignly recognized his own stamp on the work. If there is indeed a kinship with Korngold it’s very heavily filtered through the explicitly Straussian aesthetic. Gorgeous violins lead, Don Juan like, into the late Romantic syntax warmed by lavish portamanti – turbulent, energetic and distinctly central European. The main work here, though, is the 1947 Pastoral recorded in Rome with the Santa Cecilia Academy Orchestra. This is certainly nether hard bitten nor over languorously genteel. De Sabata steers a judicious path between generosity of phrasing and architectural alignment. The first movement is full of delightful inflections, the rise and flow of the music relaxed but full of inner part detail and appropriate momentum. In the Andante he is certainly not as leisurely as Stokowski, say, or Beecham, instead finding a sense of almost improvisatory freedom warmed by auburn strings and Elysian winds. The concluding allegretto has prodigious layering of sound, with great clarity of sound but also great metrical freedom. He encourages just the right weight of rhythmic impetus and the arco and pizzicato momentum is conveyed with skill and panache.

For so electrifying a conductor de Sabata’s legacy is woefully small; there are few obvious signs here of the incendiary medium he would routinely become when stepping onto the rostrum. For all their imperfections these early, rather miscellaneous recordings cast de Sabata in a somewhat unfamiliar embryonic light and are strongly recommended.

Jonathan Woolf

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