Perhaps prompted by the success of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra's own
recordings on the Tring label, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
has inaugurated a new series of compact disc releases featuring live performances
made in the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall with conductors closely associated
with this orchestra. The orchestra's music director, Petr Altrichter, conducts
this first disc of popular Russian music and if it is any indication of what
is to come, then this series should prove to be very rewarding.
The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra has an impressive recording history.
Sir Malcolm Sargent made his great recording of Elgar's Dream of Gerontius
with the orchestra in the 1940s. Sir Charles Groves made a fine series of
Delius recordings in the 1970s for EMI and more recently Vernon Handley used
this orchestra for his superb Vaughan Williams cycle on EMI Eminence. Libor
Pesek made many beautifully idiomatic recordings of Czech music for the Virgin
Label. Recently the orchestra has been rather quiet on disc. Pesek is no
longer with the orchestra and Handley isn't recording as much these days.
The emergence of RLPO Live is therefore a very welcome development so admirers
of this great orchestra can continue to enjoy their music making.
The highlight of this first disc is the leisurely paced and wonderfully detailed
Scheherazade. My benchmark references for this work are Fritz Reiner on RCA,
Sir Thomas Beecham on EMI and Bernard Haitink on Philips. Each of these
recordings is a good deal more dramatic than the Altrichter who seems more
involved with clarifying textures and exposing rarely heard orchestral details.
I welcome a new recording of this show piece that emphasizes the lyrical
beauty of the writing rather than the orchestral fireworks. This impresses
me as an almost obsessively articulated reading that forwardly balances the
woodwinds and keeps the brass under very tight rein. Whereas the Reiner
overwhelms with its massive wall of strings, the RLPO recording is much more
lifelike and distant making the strings sound a bit underpowered in comparison.
The strings are very refined however, and their leader, Malcolm Sterwart,
plays his solos with sensuous intensity. Considering this is a live recording,
there are very few blemishes present. I wonder if some patching hasn't been
As an encore we get the raucous galop, Moscow Cheremushki by Dimitri
Shostakovich. Here Altrichter really allows his orchestra to rip and the
result is extremely exciting. I wish some of that same energy had found its
way into the two performances that open the disc. Glinka's Overture Russlan
and Ludmilla and the Mussorgsky/Rimsky-Korsakov Night on Bald Mountain are
also characterized by an almost fastidious attention to detail but I feel
these performances are just too Earth bound. Glinka's overture needs to sparkle.
Here I admired the very precise playing of the orchestra but I kept wishing
for some of Fritz Reiner's virtuosic brilliance. I also prefer the more flexible
account of Leonard Bernstein's Night on Bald Mountain with the New York
Philharmonic on a very vivid if a little dry Sony recording.
I am looking forward to more releases from RLPO Live. Altrichter is a very
individual and thoughtful conductor and I hope to hear more from him. I would
like for some of Vernon Handley's performances to be made available as well.