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Sydney Symphony – 75th Anniversary Collection – Recording Heritage
Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No.2 in C minor Resurrection (1895) [68:07]
Valda Bagnall (soprano), Florence Taylor (contralto)
Hurlstone Choral Society/Sydney Symphony Orchestra/Otto Klemperer, recorded 1950
Der Abschied from Das Lied von der Erde (1907-09) [30:56]
Elizabeth Campbell (mezzo)/Sydney Symphony Orchestra/Stuart Challender, recorded in the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House, July 1990
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op.36 (1801) [33:23]
Sydney Symphony Orchestra/Eugene Goossens, recorded in the Great Hall of the University of Sydney, April 1952
John ANTILL (1904-1986)
Corroboree – suite from the ballet (1944) [16:59]
Sydney Symphony Orchestra/Eugene Goossens, recorded in the Ashfield Town Hall, December 1950
Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961)
Youthful Suite (1899-1901 revised 1940s) [26:19]
Sydney Symphony Orchestra/John Hopkins, recorded in Sydney Town Hall, 1976
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Symphonie fantastique Op.14 (1830) [49:18]
Sydney Symphony Orchestra/Willem van Otterloo, recorded in the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House, August 1974
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Flute Concerto No.1 in G major K313 (1777) [24:34]
Neville Amadio (flute) with Sydney Symphony Orchestra/Patrick Thomas, recorded in the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House, July 1990
Ave verum corpus – motet K618 (1791) [4:06]
Sydney Philharmonia Choir/Stuart Challender, recorded in the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House, April 1991 
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Brünnhilde’s Immolation Scene from Götterdämmerung (1874) [18:51]
Birgit Nilsson (soprano) with Sydney Symphony Orchestra/Charles Mackerras, recorded in the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House, September 1973
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Ein Heldenleben (1898) [45:17]
John Harding (violin)/Sydney Symphony Orchestra/Edo de Waart, in the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House, February 1996
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
La Mer (1905) [23:56]
Sydney Symphony Orchestra/Gianluigi Gelmetti, recorded in the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House, October 2005
ABC CLASSICS 476 5957 [5 CDs: 68:07 + 74:05 + 77:03 + 69:26 + 54:14]
Experience Classicsonline

ABC released this five CD set to celebrate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the founding of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Regrettably little has been preserved form the early days either commercially or off-air and indeed the earliest performance presented in this set is Klemperer’s 1950 Mahler 2, recorded live. Goossens’s important tenure with the orchestra is marked by a 1952 Beethoven D major recording – for HMV – and by his pioneering espousal of Antill. These are the pivotal early moments in this valuable and often absorbing set of discs.
Klemperer’s Mahler recording in Sydney has also appeared on Doremi 7759. It’s one of no fewer than seven (at the last count) performances of his conducting of the Resurrection to have survived, one way or another. It’s also, I think, the quickest.  And it’s also sung in English. One has to accept sonic imperfections – very occasionally there’s some pitch sag and the sound of the acetates is obviously compromised by some scrunching - but it’s not as bad as all that. Klemperer drives through the symphony with astounding vigour, sweeping all before him. Certainly detractors might suggest that this is Klemps in manic mode, especially in the outer movements where he pushes tempi to extremes – astonishing accelerandi along the way. The performance, I suppose, is best characterised as feverish. But the two solo singers deserve remembrance – Bagnall and Taylor sing well and the chorus lustily. And one’s final impression is of blazing, maybe occasionally perverse, excitement, culminatory fires blazing.
After the daemonic drive of Klemperer’s Mahler we move onto the first symphonically scaled commercial recording made by the orchestra – that 1952 Goossens-led Beethoven. It’s a broadly traditional treading, alert, vital. It also restores to the Goossens discography a recording of standard repertory; he’s these days probably better known from his more catholic, twentieth century or Russian discs. The Antill recording does show us the exploratory modernist then in Sydney’s midst. The recording carries with it the charge, the thrill, of recent discovery. Goossens had premiered the ballet suite of Corroboree (written in 1944) in 1946. The pointing and detail is splendid, its rhythmic profile revealed with Goossens’s accustomed assurance. Try the fantastically evocative Rain Dance for size or the amazing, fervid Procession of Totems and Fire Ceremony. He later recorded it with the LSO for Everest but this Sydney effort is the pioneering one. This disc ends, perhaps a little incongruously with John Hopkins’s genial performance of Grainger’s Youthful Suite. There are a few LP clicks but it’s worth it just to listen to the gorgeous wind and brass playing in the Norse Dirge.
Van Otterloo – who was killed in a car crash in Melbourne, a fact I’d forgotten – is represented by his 1974 Berlioz Symphonie fantastique. This was a work with which he was associated; he’d recorded it twice by this point. This Sydney reading is a live one, used as an “exchange” house disc. Van Otterloo manages to balance dream reflection with a strong sense of movement and direction. It’s a fine performance; not quite outstanding though – it can lose a little fire in the latter stages. Its disc mate is Mozart – the G major Flute Concerto played by the debonair John Amadio, superb player, and member of a famous Australian wind family. He’s still fluent and fluid at sixty-three and unveils the slow movement with especially attractive warmth. Patrick Thomas is the conductor.
In the next disc we hear the majestic figure of Birgit Nilsson, singing live in the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House, September 1973 accompanied by Charles Mackerras. It’s Brünnhilde’s Immolation Scene from Götterdämmerung, a valuable souvenir of the two musicians’ collaboration and a terrific performance. The tragically short-lived Stuart Challender, of whom great things were expected, is heard in two items. There’s Der Abschied from Das Lied von der Erde sung by Elizabeth Campbell, and nobly too with Challender providing eloquent orchestral support. And then a rapt Mozart Ave verum corpus.
The last disc is the most recent. Firstly there’s Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben with Edo de Waart from 1996; John Harding is the leader. This is a first-class, formidable performance revealing rock-solid ensemble in even the most taxing moments. Harding acquits himself splendidly as well. And to demonstrate the top rank international standards now wielded by the Sydney Symphony we have Gianluigi Gelmetti’s 2005 La Mer. Once again this is a performance of real stature; corporate virtuosity is reflected in playing of colour and rhythmic élan. And it closes the disc on a high.
The card box houses the five “book style” CDs. There are some engaging photographs, especially the early-days ones. The notes are informative and often revealing. This is a valuable historical conspectus which fortunately contains – not always the case with this kind of survey – excellent performances. Its interest is certainly not confined to Sydneysiders.
Jonathan Woolf


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