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Constantin Silvestri
Edward ELGAR
(1857-1934)

1. Cockaigne overture (In London Town), op.40 [15.27]
2. Symphony No.1 in A flat major, op.55 [54.53]
Malcolm ARNOLD (1921-2006)
3. Beckus The Dandipratt – comedy overture, op.5 [7.51]
Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
4. Symphony No.2 in C minor, op.17 [32.40]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
5. Jeux – Poème Dansé [17.11]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
6. Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes, op.33a [17.13]
George ENESCU (1881-1955)
7. Romanian Rhapsody in A major, Op.11, No.1 [11.15]
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Constantin Silvestri
rec. live, Winter Gardens, Bournemouth, 6 December 1966(1) / 25 July 1968 (2) / 23 February 1963 (3)/ 12 November 1966 (4)/ 10 November 1965 (5)/ 26 November 1966 (6)/ Royal Festival Hall, London, 22 November 1966 (7). ADD.
All recordings except the Arnold overture are in mono sound.
BBC LEGENDS BBCL41822 [78.36 + 78.59]
Experience Classicsonline


To give a different perspective from Evan Dickerson’s review I’m concentrating on Silvestri in comparison with other recordings. First up is the most leisurely account I’ve heard of Cockaigne. The 1962 Philharmonia Orchestra/John Barbirolli recording (EMI 5628862) takes 14:35, Silvestri 15:27. Not that this is disadvantageous. In the very opening phrase Silvestri points up the appoggiaturas with more humour than Barbirolli. The theme representing the Londoner (tr. 1 1:09) has breadth though it doesn’t stand quite as proud as Barbirolli’s. Silvestri’s lovers in Regent’s Park (2:07) seem more starry-eyed in their greater warmth and relaxation. Silvestri finds a compelling rawness in the excitement of anticipation of the military band’s arrival, a gentle solemnity to the lovers in church (9:00) and a comically lumbering quality to the amateur band (11:12) where Barbirolli has more of a Falstaffian swagger. Overall Barbirolli has more adroit finesse but Silvestri draws attention to more vibrant detail.
 
For Elgar’s first symphony I compared the Hallé Orchestra/John Barbirolli 1970 concert performance (BBC Legends BBCL 4106-2). Here are the timings. I have excluded the applause time in the Barbirolli to make the comparison exact:

Timings
I
II
III
IV
Total
Silvestri
22:04
8:12 
11:33
13:04
54:53
Barbirolli
20:44
7:02
12:16
12:02
52:04

Barbirolli’s first movement prelude has more inwardness and stateliness. Silvestri brings more sense of progression to the theme and more direct vigour. Barbirolli’s second theme has more winsome fragility yet Silvestri’s (tr. 2 4:46) has a lissom sunnier quality. Barbirolli’s return of the prelude theme on the horns is mournful where Silvestri (7:40) is warmer. Barbirolli’s climaxes are starker where Silvestri’s shows their architecture in a more deliberate manner. Barbirolli’s final return of the opening theme is more delicately infused but Silvestri’s is flowing and serene. Barbirolli brings a magical calm to the coda. Silvestri emphasises its mystery, his concentration evident and the outcome eloquent.
 
Barbirolli’s scherzo is more impetuous and fiery. Silvestri’s second theme march (tr. 2 0:36) is rugged and robust where Barbirolli’s is grim and garish. Even Barbirolli’s trio is evanescent in its idyllic nature, swept forward by the overall precipitation. Silvestri’s trio (1:57) has a noticeably different atmosphere, basking idyllically. Barbirolli’s slow movement is warm and smooth yet assured, both rich and restrained with greater relaxation later yet sustained serenity. Silvestri works more intently at expression and dynamics, seamlessly and wholeheartedly projecting and savouring a passionate joy, even more sustained from the third theme (tr. 4 8:00).
 
Barbirolli’s finale has a mysterious and ominous introduction where Silvestri’s directness is cosier, with less atmosphere. Barbirolli’s Allegro is more impulsive, his second theme of a more heroic character than Silvestri’s more objective observation (tr. 5 3:29). Barbirolli’s third theme march has a compelling nervous energy where Silvestri is in comparison (4:22) more square. To the transformation of this theme into a noble cantabile melody (7:04) Silvestri brings a gently glowing serenity where Barbirolli is smoother and more silky. Silvestri’s sonorous return of the opening movement prelude theme doesn’t realize quite Barbirolli’s grandeur.
 
In Malcolm Arnold’s Beckus the Dandipratt (tr. 6) that particular urchin announces his presence to the world on braying cornet. In Silvestri’s hands it’s a graphic, raw, raucous assault, all quick-fire orchestral effects and contrasts vividly conveyed with total relish. Arnold’s 1955 recording with the Royal Philharmonic (EMI 3 82146 2) is a little faster at 7:23 against Silvestri’s 7:51, Beckus cuts a more dashing, less raunchy figure and Arnold’s relaxed moments have a more poetic lightness, but the mono sound is less immediate and has less body than Silvestri’s stereo.
 
CD2 begins with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony 2. I compared the 1979 ‘studio’ recording by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan (Deutsche Grammophon 459 518-2). Here are the comparative timings:

Timings
I
II
III
IV
Total
Silvestri
10:46
7:11
3:48
(4:43)
 11:00
32:40
(33:35)
Karajan
11:08
8:06
5:46
10:17
35:17

The opening horn solo under Karajan is more poetic and poised but this artistry takes away its folksy quality to which Silvestri brings more natural flow. And more mounting excitement to the build ups, rigour to the Allegro rather than Karajan’s crispness, a second theme (tr. 1 3:46) of more ardour and seriousness than Karajan’s.
 
The slow movement march is somewhat dour at first but perks up with contrasted scoring. Silvestri finds a gently sighing quality for the second theme (tr. 2 1:04). To the folksong centre (2:05) he brings a freer flowing grace with a natural feel about it. Karajan’s march is more suave, his second theme more whimsical, the folksong quite serious. Silvestri’s greater flow gives more of a sense of purpose and freshness overall. The athletic momentum Silvestri finds in the scherzo gives it a virile vigour while the observation of dynamic contrasts allows it to be waspish and feathery by turns. Silvestri doesn’t make the second section repeat. The timing in brackets above makes an exact comparison with Karajan who does. The trio is neat and bright. Karajan shows more stylish shading but less verve.
 
In the finale Silvestri’s ubiquitous momentum pictures an eager procession surging forward. The second theme (tr. 4 3:11) begins more dreamily yet also of a free, open air character so that as it becomes more assertive it influences the opening theme to be lighter, less formal. Karajan offers a virtuoso display of high powered climaxes and balletic deftness, a graceful second theme merging with the rest more conventionally.
 
Bernard Haitink’s 1979 ‘studio’ recording of Jeux with the Concertgebouw Orchestra (Philips 438 742-2) presents the variegation of Debussy’s orchestration with a beguilingly seamless assurance. Silvestri, more animated with a total timing of 17:11 in comparison with Haitink’s 18:46, is more volatile and dramatic. Quicksilver details emerge from the kaleidoscope, like the throbbing excitement of the first violins’ brief theme (tr. 5 2:19). And there’s more haunting material like the wonderful, fragile poise to the first violins’ ‘sweet and sad’ phrase (9:17). Less unified than Haitink’s, Silvestri’s is a graphic account easy to get involved with.
 
Silvestri’s ‘Dawn’, the first of Britten’s Four sea interludes from Peter Grimes, is fresh and keen. I compared the 1974 ‘studio’ recording by the London Symphony Orchestra/Andre Previn (EMI 5 62615 2). Here are the comparative timings:

Timings
Dawn
Sunday M
Moonlight
Storm
Total
Silvestri
3:36
4:17
4:35
4:30
16:58
Previn
3:44
3:48
4:23
4:29
16:24

Previn’s slightly slower ‘Dawn’ is an artistic musical portrait, a refined, almost abstract distillation of landscape, seascape and varying natural forces. Silvestri has a more poetic and dramatic feel for the melodic lines as an experience. This difference in approach applies throughout. Silvestri’s slower ‘Sunday Morning’ is a hive of exuberant activity in the midst of which Ellen’s theme in violas and cellos (tr. 7 0:52) is a resolute thanksgiving. Previn’s activity is spikier, Ellen’s theme dreamier and more isolated. In ‘Moonlight’ Silvestri’s sea drags drowsily but there’s a richness of density too where Previn finds beauty in stillness. Silvestri’s ‘Storm’ begins more grittily than Previn’s and has more elemental wildness. In the second contrasting section (tr. 9 2:27) Silvestri achieves Previn’s quality of distance and also a serenity of suspended time of sudden peace and stillness before the final screaming onslaught.
 
From the opening playful clarinet Enescu’s first Romanian rhapsody (tr. 10) gets a rivetingly folksy performance. The 1996 BBC Philharmonic/Gennady Rozhdetvensky ‘studio’ recording (Chandos CHAN 9633), taking 12:57 against Silvestri’s 11:15, is a more refined affair, with more languorous opening and grand brass at the close, but Silvestri gets a more authentic feel of weight and character, violins now skittering, now sunnily taking their ease. The dance begun by flutes at 5:28 grows ever more frisky, the trumpets’ blare which follows more festive and from 6:53 it’s almost impossible not to tap your feet. A fitting close to a set of distinctive performances with a real sense of spontaneity presented in serviceable recordings.
 
Michael Greenhalgh
 
See also review by Evan Dickerson
 


 


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