The recently issued
batch of EMI Classics, of which this is one, calls itself Gemini,
though habitual readers will recognise each of the performances
as part of the regular reissue programme. Some I’ve seen have
been straight reissues of reissues whilst others have juggled
things slightly. Readers may remember Barenboim’s Verklärte
Nacht from EMI CDM5 65079-2 where it was coupled with Bartók’s
Divertimento and Hindemith’s Trauermusik with
Cecil Aronowitz. Barbirolli’s Pelleas und Melisande was
coupled with Strauss’s Metamorphosen on CDM5 65078-2.
And the Rattle Chamber Symphony previously sailed on
an all-Schoenberg EMI CDC5 55212-2 with the Variations Op.31
and Erwartung. A lot of catalogue numbers to think about.
a two-disc slim line compilation makes a certain amount of sense
if one doesn’t mind yoking disparate performances and recording
venues and standards. This doesn’t much matter to me but there
are getting on for two decades between the Barenboim and the
Rattle and that shows not least in respect of engineering.
und Melisande is valuable to have but a somewhat contentious
reading. One admires in principle the devout drama he extracts
all through the score – there were few half measures with him
– but perhaps inevitably this comes at the expense of a cohesive
view. I’m not sure how often Barbirolli programmed this in concert
but to unsympathetic auditors there are moments that do sound
to be taken to expressive extremes. Admirers however, and there
will be many, will welcome the sheer phrasal generosity Barbirolli
And I do prefer
it as a performance to Barenboim’s relatively youthful take
on Verklärte Nacht, a recording made in the same year
in fact, 1967, when Barenboim was taking his first conductorial
steps with the English Chamber Orchestra. There’s an intermittent
failure of legato from time to time and for all Barenboim’s
attempt at weighty sonority the results sometimes sound somewhat
less than convincing.
In the context of
the recordings by Barenboim and Barbirolli, who of course recorded
Brahms together, those by Simon Rattle come as a sonic refresher.
The Chamber Symphony Op.1 is with the Birmingham Contemporary
Music Group. Here for the most part Rattle obtains lucid and
convincing textures. Nothing is exaggerated or, in current Rattle
fashion, melodramatically elasticated. His direction is intelligent,
well balanced and textually self aware to a high degree. His
forces prove every bit as dependable. I wish I could be as enthusiastic
about the orchestration of the Brahms. There’s nothing wrong
with Rattle’s conducting or the playing of the City of Birmingham
Symphony Orchestra. It’s not quite so splendidly recorded as
the companion work. But the main problem - and obviously I’m
not alone – is the point of it all. I know this is an adaptation
for which Rattle clearly feels affection and admiration as he’s
returned to it since, not least in Berlin. You can see a DVD
of it on Euroarts with the Berlin Philharmonic recorded in 2004.
As for me I can only wonder at his loyalty to a piece of garish
Such personal prejudice
apart the two Rattle contributions are the most impressive constituent
part of this latest EMI twofer; Barbirolli is hot-blooded but
occasionally fallible and Barenboim can easily be supplanted
by other performances. As such it’s not at all bad but in truth
rather a mixed bag.