I’ve recently been
sent three Telarc reissues for review,
all conducted by Yoel Levi - this excellent
Sibelius 2; an enjoyable Mussorgsky
collection, including Ravel’s orchestration
of Pictures at an Exhibition
and a superb Mahler 6 (CD-80444).
Following hard on the heals of Peter
Hill’s listing, on BBC Radio 3’s ‘Record
Review’, of Levi’s Sacre du printemps
as the No 1 recording (CD-80266)
of Stravinsky’s premier league test-piece
it’s good to be reminded of Levi’s impressive
credentials and achievements.
Dating from the early
digital era, this disc was recorded
with the Cleveland Orchestra, before
Levi took up his post in Atlanta. But
you’d never know, such is the maturity
of the music-making; and the warmth,
clarity and weight of the recording.
I use the word ‘maturity’ here advisedly,
because you’d never guess that a young
man was at the helm. Everything is impeccably
judged, and nothing is overstated. In
the finale in particular, he avoids
any suggestion of excess or vulgarity.
And yet only those accustomed to top-gear
performances could possibly be disappointed.
The recording is admirably
faithful. No wonder Telarc’s early CDs
quickly acquired a reputation for genuinely
high fidelity. The strings in the opening
bars have a lovely, velvety tone, whereas
the woodwinds’ chattering phrases have
a crystalline clarity and the sense
of front-to-rear perspective heightens
the contrasts in Sibelius’ material.
In the haunting second movement, the
multi-dimensional nature of the recording
illuminates the scoring of the walking
bass (shared between cellos and double-basses)
beautifully. To crown it all, the closing
pages have a tremendous depth and weight.
In terms of sound, this is second to
none in the catalogue.
Levi is one of that
rare breed of artists who give you what
the composer wrote, without any intrusive
‘interpretation’. This is a performance
to live with - a disc of the Second
Symphony, not the Second Symphony seen
through the eyes of X, Y or Z. What
a pity about the coupling, though. Competitors
generally offer you another symphony,
and (on a reissue of a 20-year-old performance!)
that is what we ought to have here.
‘Beginners’ wanting to build a Sibelius
collection need look no further than
the legendary Ashkenazy-Philharmonia
Decca - a matchless bargain. But
do try to hear Levi too!
Peter J Lawson
see also review
by Rob Barnett