I have very
fond memories of an ASMIF/Marriner recording of the Serenade
for Strings that did – and still does – yeoman service on
my LP racks. There was real delicacy and warmth to it and
a sure ear for the gradients of lyricism that seem to me
captivating. That was recorded well before these resurrected
1990-92 traversals that Capriccio have now installed in
their increasingly viable SACD series of releases – hybrid
multichannel discs, as they’re known in the business. If
I can’t summon up the same kind of enthusiasm for this quartet
of performances I have no real complaints with the playing
as such. Rather there’s a sense of hanging fire, of a certain
distance that certainly does no favours for Francesca
da Rimini a work that invites a degree of extremity
from Vesuvian maestri with personality to burn.
Let’s not mention
the raft of great conductors who’ve taken on the complexities
of Francesca but Marriner could be considered, with
fairness, something of an anti-Stokowskian in his approach.
There’s close textual fidelity, not least with regard to
tempo indications, and the orchestra plays well (some cloudy,
obscuring engineering tends to overbalance the orchestra’s
choirs) but not very excitingly. There’s a want of real
energy and a rather slack approach generally.
Italien has been done to death often enough but the
very best performances bring something new-minted to it.
Certainly Marriner’s band exhibits some of its customary
elegance in the violin section; winds and brass are warm,
the pizzicati well timed, rhythms sprung attractively –
but overall there’s a well-mannered, rather sedentary feel
to it. It’s neither especially playful nor viscerally exciting.
I have to admit my preference here is for a bit of old-fashioned
vulgarity; Marriner’s imperatives are to tame
the beast with charity; I prefer a good all-in tag match
with Capriccio Italien. There are two fillers – a
rather laid back Marche Slave and a pleasing, though
once again not particularly acrid, 1812, complete
with canon fire.
If you’re looking
for Gergiev-like drama in Tchaikovsky you won’t be reading
this review. I hate to belittle the disc by calling it too
civilised because that implies that raw and gutty playing
is the only approach. Let’s say that these performances
rather underestimate the level of theatrical projection
necessary to carry them off successfully. For those qualities
you really will need to look elsewhere.