This is in many ways
a remarkable disc. Gatti has effectively
brought a breath of fresh air to two
war-horses of the repertoire, in the
process inspiring the RPO to matching
the highest of orchestral standards.
Overall production quality is high,
too, with George Gelles’ notes being
extensive, detailed, accurate and readable
– quite a combination!.
The Fifth Symphony
receives a reading of the utmost care
and attention to detail. The Andante
of the first movement exemplifies its
qualities in microcosm. Nicely shaded,
it projects an atmosphere of melancholy
unrest (and just listen to the clarinettist’s
control!). Time has clearly been taken
to consider phrasing and balance – it
provides the perfect foil for the thrust
of the movement proper (Allegro con
anima). Gatti shows an Italianate refusal
to linger (this is not to imply any
literalism, though) – yet he makes the
music’s debt to the world of the ballet
clear, too. He can show a most appealing
sense of humour, too – the suave third
movement (‘Valse’) has turns of phrase
that strongly suggest a confidential
lifting of the eyebrows.
The bed of sound created
at the start of the slow movement (Andante
cantabile, con alcuna licenza) almost
rivals the warmth of the horn solo (Martin
Owen). The oboe, when it enters, is
thin of timbre but this is not inappropriate
and it still exudes an interior expression.
Climaxes swell naturally, Gatti never
allowing the music to rest and his enthusiasm
is such that in the latter part of the
movement it almost sounds as if the
music is about to skid out of control
– but, of course, it does not. The ending
disappears into nothing, magically (again,
the clarinettist’s control is supreme).
It is only the finale
that raises any doubts at all. Here
the RPO’s strings lack a certain amount
of depth and so the music does not carry
its full import. If Gatti generates
a fair head of steam early on, he inexplicably
allows the tension to sag around the
seven-minute mark. Interesting how he
sees the coda as more poetic (and balletic)
This is a memorable
account – no matter how many versions
you have on your shelves, there should
be space for this one. True, the sheer
volatility of Gergiev (with the Vienna
Philharmonic on Philips 462 905-2) has
its own complementary, mesmeric, appeal.
One should ideally not be without either.
The Romeo and Juliet
dates from 1998 and comes courtesy of
BMG. It is not as immediately impressive
as the Fifth (AR was impressed by a
Proms performance by these forces in
September 2002, though: http://www.musicweb-international.com/SandH/2002/Aug02/Prom_72.htm).
The same care comes across (the Friar
Lawrence introduction is very carefully
moulded, but sequences later can be
presented literally, losing their cumulative
point. Moments appeal – the delicate
web of string sound around the nine-minute
mark, for example. But the whole fails
to hang together convincingly because
Gatti steam-rollers his way through.
The timpani are not focused enough for
the ominous triplet rhythm at the close.
Nevertheless, the performance
of the Fifth alone justifies the cost
of this disc.