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World Orchestra for Peace

Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
A Midsummer night's Dream, Op. 61 (1842) - Scherzoa [4'51].
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

La merb (1903-5) [24'13].
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)

Petrushkac (1911) [34'51].
UN 50th Anniversary Concert
Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)

Guillaume Tell (1829) - Overtured [11'15].
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)

Concerto for Orchestra, Sz116e (1943-5) [35'49].
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Fidelio (1814) - Act 2, finalef [13'06].
fAndreas Kohn (bass); fAlbert Dohmen (baritone); fStig Andersen (tenor); fEvelyn Herlitzius (soprano); fHans Tschammer (bass-baritone); fRuth Ziesak (soprano); fHerbert Lippert (tenor);
fLondon Voices;
World Orchestra for Peace/abcValéry Gergiev, defSir Georg Solti.
Rec. aBaden-Baden in 1998, bRoyal Albert Hall, London in 2000, cMariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg, on May 6th-9th, 2003, defVictoria Hall, Geneva, Switzerland in July 1995.
PHILIPS 475 6937 [CD + DVD] [63'57 + 73:00]
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The World Orchestra for Peace is surely a demonstration of the power of music. Members of the World's major orchestras unite on a plane that lies above any politics or racial biases to show that on this higher level there is only an underlying humanity.

The Suisse Romande television interview with Solti reveals him to be, in his own words, a 'passionate believer in peace' and he reveals that there are forty nationalities in the orchestra. Furthermore not one player refused to join when asked! This indicates perhaps the dedication that can be heard here. Particularly, it has to be said, in Gergiev's pieces - the Bartók is the exception one of the finest accounts you will hear.

Gergiev's three pieces make up the CD. The Mendelssohn (from Baden-Baden) is nice and light, although there is a touch of heaviness as the scoring increases. La mer, taken from the penultimate night of the Proms in 2000, is simply wonderful. From a nebulous beginning, the music works up to great tutti accents at around 4'10. In Gergiev's interpretation, the timpani plays a vital role. His is hugely evocative; the second movement ('Jeux de vagues') glitters and sparkes. Gestural, yes, but one is simultaneously aware of the bigger picture, and detail is always clear. Horn calls - almost Dutchman-like! - mark out a finale that is not only exciting but, again, clear. Try the final moments, cacophonous to many. Gergiev is careful to follow Debussy's layering so that each strand is obvious.

This clarity of musical strands characterises his Petrushka also (St Petersburg, 2003). Rhythms are spot-on. Each movement brings its own highlights. Great bass raspberries in 'The Shrovetide Fair', superb solos in 'Petrushka's Room' - some undue spotlighting of the piano here, though – magnificent polytonal layering in 'The Moor's Room' and a superb sense of shifting perspectives - coming direct from the score itself - in 'The Shrovetide Fair, towards evening'. The finale is a virtuoso ride for all, and I particularly liked Gergiev's highlighting of the cartoon-like antics of the final pages. The end is pure magic – so quiet one really could hear a puppet drop.

But perhaps it is as a Solti memorial that this product may appeal. And if one is referring to the Bartók, this is rightly so. The Tell Overture is marked by very loving slow sections (real warmth) and, unsurprisingly, bags of energy for the more agile ones. But one enters a different league for the Concerto for Orchestra, a work Sir Georg almost made his own; one should ideally own both his LSO and Chicago versions. There is something of Bluebeard about the low strings of the opening movement - far more than its 'Introduzione' marking. Brass are simply inspired; accelerandi are furious. Interestingly, though, there is nocturnal repose here as well as simple dynamism. Interesting also to watch Solti's face, a delight when things go well, and going into grimace when they don't.

The ‘couples’ of the second movement are all characterful (especially the clarinets), and it is a privilege to watch the Maestro's baton which appears to be on intimate terms with the score. To contrast, Solti conjures up half-lights for the 'Elegia'. The recording captures the strings almost preternaturally well, and Solti gives more than adequate space to the music. Warmth runs through the long melodies of the 'Intermezzo interotto'. Not sure what Solti's facial contortions mean before he embarks on the finale, but once he does all is energy.

Perhaps only the Fidelio finale disappoints. On a human level this is the ideal choice, but despite excellent vocal contributions from all concerned, Solti misses the work's grandeur. The soloists do tend to look like so many mannequins in front of their microphones. Weakest is Stig Andersen's Florestan (he is wanting in power) and there is some orchestral scrappiness before the final hymn to Leonore. The problem is really that most of this is low-key, especially after the Bartók, so when it finally does take off - literally just before the end - it is too late.

Let this not put you off, however. There is much to enjoy and, indeed, cherish here and the idea of a multi-format twofer is a good one.

Colin Clarke



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