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Willem MENGELBERG (1871-1951)
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)

Der Freischütz - Overture
Euryanthe – Overture
Oberon – Overture
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)

Scherzo from the Incidental Music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)

Roman Carnival Overture
Three Excerpts from the damnation of Faust

  • Minuet of the Will-o’-the-wisp
  • Dance of the Sylphs
  • Hungarian March
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Les Préludes
Concertgebouw Orchestra
Willem Mengelberg
Recorded 1928-1942
NAXOS 8.110853 [66.43]

A well-chosen selection of concert overtures is the spine of this latest installment on Naxos’ Great Conductors series. The recordings cover the years 1928-42, though this means, specifically, one Columbia session in 1928, another in 1929, and a final one in 1931 followed by the two Telefunkens of 1937 and 1942 (in both cases of Berlioz). As ever with Mengelberg there is drama and theatricality in profusion, colour and intense rubati, uniform portamenti and a highly individual and personalized approach to form – all of which, needless to say, is fascinating if not always, to the purist, convincing.

Der Freischütz has an elastic sense of narrative, plentiful rubati and rich lower strings at 7.25 whilst in Euryanthe Mengelberg conjures overlapping string lines and indulges little agogics, intensely theatrical and dramatic. He demonstrates a real sense of paragraphal conducting, encouraging a lighter weight of string tone and conjuring up evocative pictorialism – basses of real amplitude and puncturing brass. Naturally this approach involves departures from pulse and line but it is intensely fresh and exciting. Oberon opens with an evocative somnambulant air but there is a thrilling immediacy to his subsequent fortissimi, well captured in the Concertgebouw in 1928, which defies objection. His Scherzo from Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is superfine and astoundingly fast; it makes Toscanini’s contemporary recording sound positively lumpy. You’ll love it or loathe it. In the Carnival Romain Mengelberg achieves elegance rather than forceful declamation; with strong rubati and mellow strings he is more pliant than de Sabata and less conclusive than Beecham – a subtle reading, not at all swashbuckling and self-aggrandizing though not without power and excitement either.

For the excerpts from The Damnation of Faust he conjures up a magnificently spectral atmosphere for the Will-o’-the-Wisps whilst The Dance of the Sylphs are accompanied by a true galaxy of string slides – most instructive to hear Mengelberg’s unashamed expressivity intact in 1942 and in the Hungarian March his accelerandos are fearsome and powerfully exact. Which leaves his incandescent Les Préludes of 1929. The trumpet rings out thrillingly, cellos and violas play with pliancy, the burning basses coruscate, the syntax of the work is certainly stretched taut by Mengelberg but triumphantly so. This defiant and magnificent 1929 recording sounds ringingly triumphant in Naxos’s restoration; in fact the whole disc does. Ian Julier’s notes strike his usual intelligent balance between fact and judgement. Exciting, revivifying stuff.

Jonathan Woolf


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