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
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.
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.