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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No.1 in C minor, op.68 (I. Poco sostenuto - Allegro [13.12]; II. Andante sostenuto [8.06]; III. Un poco allegretto e grazioso [4.30]; IV. Adagio - Allegro ma non troppo [16.13])
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Guido Cantelli
rec. 27 March 1954, WGBH-FM Boston broadcast. ADD
PRISTINE AUDIO PASC083 [42:01]



The Italian conductor Guido Cantelli died far too young, at only 36 years of age, in a plane crash in France.
 
Born in Novara, Italy, in 1920, he played the organ at a local church when only 10 years old and made his debut as a pianist at 14. He studied composition and conducting at the Milan Conservatory, but his career was held up by the war. Forced to join the army in 1943, he was interned in a German labour camp near Stettin (1943-1944) because of his outspoken loathing of Nazism. Illness required hospitalization at Bolzano where he escaped using a forged passport, subsequently living in Milan under an assumed name until Fascist troops took him hostage. Following the liberation in 1944, he was freed and began to pursue conducting engagements.
 
Thereafter, in only three seasons, Cantelli proved himself deserving of the mercurial career that Toscanini launched.
 
Now in his final decade, Arturo Toscanini was on the lookout for someone to take over his NBC Symphony - the orchestra especially formed for him in 1938. Antonio Ghiringhelli, intendant at La Scala in Milan, took Toscanini to an off-season concert conducted by Cantelli and without needing to hear the whole concert the older man declared “that is me directing this concert!" Cantelli’s debut with the NBC SO took place on 15 January 1949, and Time magazine printed a profile likening him physically to Frank Sinatra, and musically to Toscanini. Cantelli subsequently conducted the NBC Symphony annually, starting with four and expanding to eight programmes each year, until the orchestra was disbanded in 1954.
 
His worldwide career was underway; in 1951 he made the first of five annual appearances as a regular guest-conductor of the New York Philharmonic and made records with New York, the NBC and London’s Philharmonia orchestras.
 
By the mid-1950s, Mitropoulos was on his way out as chief conductor of the New York Philharmonic and Cantelli was being groomed - despite being a hard taskmaster who was resented by the sluggish players - to take over with, surprisingly, Bernstein serving merely as a stopgap until Cantelli was "ready". La Scala formally named him music director on 16 November 1956, to succeed Carlo Maria Giulini, but eight days later Cantelli died when the Lineo Aereo Italiano plane from Milan to New York City, in which he was a passenger, crashed following a stopover at Orly Airport near Paris.
 
You might wonder why I find it necessary to repeat so much information that is already known but the answer is simple; we must not forget the details of Cantelli‘s all too brief life. This CD contains a truly outstanding performance of a standard classic, a staple of the repertoire, which emerges afresh with a maturity I find lacking in many performances of this work by many an older conductor, and it’s conducted by a very young man of only 33 years of age. Boulez once said that you must never commence a performance unless you have the conclusion within your sights. Cantelli starts in the full knowledge of how the work will end and the whole performance builds gradually to the final climax. There are a couple of moments where one wonders exactly what Cantelli is doing - I found the opening of the Allegros in the outer movements to be somewhat rushed, but I soon accepted the tempo and found that it worked wonderfully well - the exposition is not repeated in the first movement. This is the mark of the young man - he was willing to take risks with the music and make them seem to be the correct way. Two small niggles are worth mentioning simply because they stand out: the oboe solo, which links the slow introduction, in the first movement, to the Allegro, is somewhat sour and the big flute solo in the introduction to the finale seems rather tentative.
 
The sound is excellent - full praise to Andrew Rose for his remastering.
 
Having heard this performance I could not live without it. I wouldn’t want it as the sole recording of Brahms 1 in my collection but alongside Boult (EMI) and Horenstein (Reader’s Digest/RCA) it can certainly hold its own.
 
The recording can be downloaded from Pristine Audio’s website or purchased as a normal CD.
 
Cantelli’s recorded legacy is all too small and the six CDs Pristine Audio has issued are invaluable. Happy listening.
 
Bob Briggs
 



 


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