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Hermann Scherchen
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Symphony No.1 in C minor Op.68 *
Vassily KALINNIKOV (1866-1901)

Symphony No.1 in G minor
Vienna State Opera Orchestra *
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Hermann Scherchen
Recorded 1951
ARCHIPEL ARPCD 0211 [79.52]

EMI brought out the Brahms Symphony in its Great Conductors of the Twentieth Century series where it joined some other famous Scherchen discs Ė notably Beethovenís Eighth Symphony, Haydnís No. 100 in G and Stravinskyís Firebird review. Scherchenís live recording of the Kalinnikov with the Czech Philharmonic has formed part of Tahraís Scherchen sets. So neither of these performances constitutes terra incognita for admirers of this conductor, who will know, only too well, that when Archipel claim that these 24 bit 96 kHz (whatever that is) restorations derive "from the original sources" the truth is nothing of the kind.

The Westminster Brahms is one of a surprisingly select few recordings of the composerís music that Scherchen left us. Powerfully moulded, lyrical rather than galvanic and impetuous, with rubati well judged, this is a strong example of Scherchenís romantic affiliations. The string cantilena is sympathetically unfolded and there is a genuine nobility and spacious grandeur in the Allegretto. Of course Scherchen, being Scherchen, there will invariably be moments of personalised approach to upset the horses. Here it comes at the end of the finale where his accelerandi and daemonic drive sweep all before him. Itís not for me Ė but itís undoubtedly exciting.

Kalinnikovís First Symphony has had its fair share of admirers, from Toscanini to Abendroth to Svetlanov and beyond. Though itís a graduation composition and has moments of academic dues paying Ė the first movement fugato, however discreetly advanced, always strikes me as forced Ė itís a winning work that should stand many more hearings than it gets. Certainly the Borodin influence is inescapable but against that the confidence is palpable and the striking meld of relaxed lyricism and passionate declamation clearly struck a note of recognition with Scherchen. The performance is really fine, the Czech Phil on top of the symphony, not least the intimate-turbulent slow movement and the folk episodes with bass drones in the Scherzo (second cousins, once removed, of Bohemian dance patterns). Rustic horns flare out and the finale drives powerfully to a dramatic end.

There are some odd patches of noise in the first movement of the Kalinnikov (passing quickly) but the pauses between movements in the Brahms are far too short. Iíve not been able to make point-by-point comparisons between this release and the relevant EMI/Tahra discs but my other experiences with Archipel have not been that good. I advise sampling first.

Jonathan Woolf

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