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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Hermann Scherchen
Antonín DVORÁK (1841-1904)

Cello Concerto in B minor Op. 104 (1894-95)
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Symphony No. 3 in F major Op. 90 (1883)
Pierre Fournier (cello)
Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana/Hermann Scherchen
Recorded Teatro Apollo, Lugano, 25 April 1962
AURA 177-2 [73.40]
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There are competing versions of the 1962 Lugano concert given by Fournier, Scherchen and the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana. On Tahra 428-29 we have both THE Dvorak Concerto and the Brahms Symphony plus the rest of the concert, the orchestral Grosse Fuge and a bonus in the form of a Scherchen-led rehearsal of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony from part of the 1965 cycle. Aura on the other hand gives us the greater part of the concert and the combination of the patrician Fournier and the more idiosyncratic, frequently flammable Scherchen results in a potentially intriguing interpretative stance. Indeed the booklet notes make much of Scherchen’s (supposed) affiliation of the Dvořák Concerto with Tchaikovsky’s ballets and co-opt the view that the conductor found the roots of the Concerto in the Piano Concertos of Chopin. None of this seems to me explicable or sustainable on the recorded evidence.

With Scherchen Fournier is somewhat quicker in the first movement than in his famous collaboration with Szell but in terms of tempo and tempo relation these are very much in the expected pattern. Scherchen encourages some strong orchestral profiling – the principal clarinettist has a strongly acidic tone, which makes his contributions characterful to say the least – and he is good at the theatrical implications of the third movement accelerandos but I don’t at all care for his ending, which is, in a rather vulgar phrase, a case of "milking it." Fournier is as ever beautiful of tone and intonationally generally secure – maybe not as secure in this respect as his colleague, the marvellous Maurice Gendron, another noted exponent of the work – and it is especially gratifying to hear Fournier’s careful delineation of passages that other cellists rush through. His bowing at such moments is wondrous, with shades of tone and balance, breathtaking to hear. But it’s not a performance that can compete with the known commercial discography.

Scherchen’s Brahms Third is something of an acquired taste. He doesn’t play the first movement exposition repeat and rather indulges the second movement Andante that in this performance, for all its eloquence, stretches to 10.21. No one wants to judge by the stopwatch but supreme Brahmsians such as Monteux and Boult took 7.40 and 8.33 respectively in their performances (Monteux live, Boult in his Indian Summer Brahms cycle). Even Barbirolli, not known for his fleetness when it came to those generally rather disappointing Vienna recordings, took 9.04. I don’t think the line is quite sustained in Scherchen’s performance, given. Incidentally. when he was seventy-one, so hardly particularly old. He fares better in the Scherzo and if the finale hangs fire – which to my ears it does rather – it’s still relatively attractive.

This means only a lukewarm reception for this issue, for all the interest in hearing the ever-unpredictable Scherchen in this repertoire. No real complaints about the sound quality – these are all live performances – but equally no overwhelming enthusiasm for the performances.

Jonathan Woolf


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