These two recorded
performances, given by a nice coincidence
eleven years apart to the day, show
this great Russian orchestra on peak
form and let us hear Gennadi Rozhdestvensky
at his inspirational best.
As David Patmore points
out in his interesting liner note, the
1960 visit to the Edinburgh Festival
was the first visit to the UK by the
Leningrad orchestra, then led by the
legendary Evgeny Mravinsky (their celebrated
DG recording of Tchaikovsky’s Fourth
symphony was set down in London that
same month.) At that time Rozhdestvensky
was Mravinsky’s junior partner. The
Edinburgh concert that Rozhdestvensky
conducted, from which this Tchaikovsky
performance is taken, also included
a performance of Shostakovich’s First
Cello Concerto with Rostropovich (available
on BBC Legends BBCL 4143-2 review).
By the time of the
Leningrad Philharmonic’s 1971 visit
Rozhdestvensky was firmly established
as a leading Soviet conductor and he
directed all three of the orchestra’s
appearances at the Henry Wood Promenade
concerts. By happy coincidence the other
work that they performed on 9 September
1971, a thrilling reading of Tchaikovsky’s
Fourth symphony, is also available on
the aforementioned BBC Legends disc.
The present Berlioz
performance is a fine one. It does not,
perhaps, have the same sort of subtle
insights that Sir Colin Davis brings
to the piece. Rozhdestvensky offers
a different view, one which is overtly
romantic and which revels in the colours
of Berlioz’s amazingly imaginative scoring.
His approach is aided significantly
by some fabulously full toned and responsive
playing from the Leningrad orchestra.
The strings are wonderfully rich with
great weight of tone and a superb bass
foundation. The wind and brass are marvellously
eloquent and the brass also have great
power (sometimes unbridled just a bit
too much!). The distinctive Russian
brass timbre is evident but not overdone
(I love it!)
the sweep of the score tremendously
well. All the surges, hesitations and
romantic yearnings in the first movement
are played out to the full (but never
overdone). This is a full-blooded, passionate
reading and I enjoyed it greatly.
I felt that his tempo
for the Ball scene was just a fraction
too steady. The movement is beautifully
played (silken, athletic violins) but
to me the essential lilt just seems
to be missing. By comparison, Sir Colin
Davis, in his LSO Live recording, is
just that crucial bit lighter on his
feet and the music benefits hugely.
One textual point: unless my ears deceive
me, Rozhdestvensky, unlike Davis, omits
the optional but important cornet part.
aux champs is most evocative and
atmospheric. There’s some outstanding
wind playing to savour and yet again
the strings ravish the listener’s ear.
The march is taken very briskly indeed.
In this performance it lasts 4’25"
against Davis’s 7’01". It’s tremendously
exciting but I feel that the weightier
tempo adopted by Davis catches the menace
that surely is at the heart of this
music. This movement is one instance,
I think, where the trumpets are allowed
to dominate the texture too much.
The Witches’ Sabbath
is suitably gothic and phantasmagorical
– a real musical nightmare. The Leningrad
account is a thunderous one and it’s
no wonder that the Promenarders erupt
at the end. Incidentally, I’m not one
of those people that objects to applause
after a live recording but I do think
that nearly 40 seconds of ovation, as
here, is a little too much.
This then is a ‘live’
Symphonie fantastique in the
true sense of the word. The performance
is full of life and colour. I didn’t
agree with every single interpretative
detail but that didn’t stop me enjoying
and admiring this reading very much.
Francesca da Rimini
receives a viscerally exciting performance.
I think this is an underrated piece.
When played with passion and conviction
by a virtuoso conductor and orchestra,
as here, it’s a tremendous work. Rozhdestvensky
and his musicians play it for all it’s
worth and the performance has terrific
impact. In the outer sections the music
boils volcanically while the central
love music has great ardour (those Leningrad
strings again!) The mono recording is
closer and more "in your face"
than that of the Berlioz (which is in
stereo and pretty good) but it still
wears its four decades pretty well.
This Francesca is a performance
in the Barbirolli/Stokowski class and
in my book that’s as good as it gets.
I’d love to hear these same forces in
Manfred but I suppose that’s
wishing for the moon, unless there’s
a tape buried in an archive somewhere.
This is another winner
from BBC Legends. The coupling works
well, I think, and both pieces are played
with panache and feeling. For an example
of a virtuoso conductor and orchestra
on top form this CD would be hard to
beat. Very warmly recommended.