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Out of Print

Willem Van Otterloo and Residentie Orkest
The Original Recordings 1950-1960

Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869) Symphonie fantastique Op. 14 (1830) [48:18]
rec. 10-12 July 1959*
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826) orch. BERLIOZ Aufforderung zum Tanz (1841)  [8:22] rec. 23 January 1951
Johan WAGENAAR (1862-1941) De Getemde Feeks Op. 25 (Overture) (1906) [6:12] rec. 3 April 1954
Cyrano de Bergerac Op. 23 (1905) (Overture) [12:15] rec. 3 April 1954
Max REGER (1873-1916) Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Mozart (1914) [30:12] rec. 26-27 March 1957
Eine romantische Suite (1912) [28:19] rec. 9-10 March 1956
Alphons DIEPENBROCK (1862-1921) Music to Sophocles’ Tragedy Electra (1919-20) (Symphonic Suite edited by Eduard Reeser1952) [17:36] rec. 8 May 1953
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937) Valses nobles et sentimentales (1911) [14:46]
rec. 1-2 April 1954
Daphnis et Chloé (1911/1913) Suites1and 2 [11:11 + 15:58]
Nederlands Kamerkoor rec. 4-5 May 1953
Modest MOUSSORGSKY (1839-1881) orch. RAVEL (1874/1922) Pictures at an Exhibition [32:11] rec. 26-27 March 1957
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809) Symphony No. 45 in F Sharp minor ‘Farewell’ (1772) [22:19] rec. 16-17 May 1962*
Symphony No. 55 in E Flat major, ‘The Schoolmaster’ (1774) [18:45] rec. 16 May 1962*
Symphony No. 92 in G major (1789) [25:02] rec. 28-29 December 1950
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856) Overture Manfred Op. 115 (1848-1849) [11: 04] rec. 23 October 1954
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Symphony No. 8 in B minor, ‘Unfinished’, D 759 (1822) [26:33] rec. June 1959*
From: Rosamunde, D 797 (1823) Entr’acte No. 3 [7:26]; Balletmusic No. 2 [5:42]
rec. 25 January 1951
Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911) Kindertotenlieder (1901-1904) [24:06]
Herman Schey (baritone)
rec. 24-25 January 1951
Symphony No. 4 in G major (1892-1910) [52:48]
Teresa Stich-Randall (soprano)
rec. 7-9 May 1956
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943) Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini Op. 43 (1934) [22:33]
Abbey Simon (piano)
rec. 12-15 February 1955
Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896) Symphony No. 4 in E Flat major, ‘Romantic’ (1874-1880) [63:51] rec. 6-7 May 1953
Overture in G minor (1862-1863) [10:26] rec. 23 October 1954
Maurice RAVEL Pavane pour une infante défunte (1910) [6:35] rec. 5 January 1952
Manuel DE FALLA (1876-1946) Three dances from El sombrero de tres picos (1919): The Neighbours’ dance [3:01]; Dance of the miller [2:39]; Final dance [5:53]
rec. 1 April 1954
Morton GOULD (1913-1996) InterplayAmerican Concertette’ (1943) [14:27] rec. 13 September 1951
Spirituals (1941) [16:12] rec. 13 September 1951
Sergey PROKOFIEV (1891-1953) Concerto No. 3 for piano and orchestra in C major (1917-1922) [26:36]
Alexander Uninsky (piano) rec. 8 April 1953
Léon ORTHEL (1905-1985) Symphony No. 2 ‘Piccola sinfonia’ Op. 18 (1940) [15:33] rec. Scheveningen, Kurhaus, October 1959*
Sem DRESDEN (1881-1957) Dansflitsen (1951) [14:17] rec. 8 May 1953
Hendrik ANDRIESSEN (1892-1981) Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Kuhnau (1935) [11:46] rec. 26 February 1952
Ricercare (1949) [9:26] rec.5 June 1951
Henk BADINGS (1907-1987) Symphony No. 3 (1934) [27:30]
rec. 28-30 November 1955
Edvard GRIEG (1943-1907) 4 Norwegische Tänze Op. 35 (1881) [14:29]
rec. July 1960*
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Der Geschöpfe des Prometheus Op. 43 (complete) (1800-01) [60:11] rec. 14-15 May 1956
Symphony No. 8 in F major Op. 93 (1812-14) [27:08]
rec. June 1959*
Overture: Die Weihe des Hauses Op. 124 (1822) rec. 31 January 1956 [9:57]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897) Symphony No. 1 in C minor Op. 68 (1876) [43:44] rec. 4 December 1953
Tragische Ouvertüre (1880) [12:42] rec. 12 December 1952
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9 in D minor Op. 125 (1822-24) [66:24]
Erna Spoorenberg (soprano); Maria von Ilosvay (alto); Frans Vroons (tenor); Herman Schey (bass); Toonkunstkoor Amsterdam
rec. 3-4 May 1952
Symphony No 4 in B flat major Op. 60 (1806-07) [32:09]
rec. 23-24 April 1957
Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893) Symphony No 4 in F minor Op. 36 (1877-78) [39:28] rec. 7-8 June 1950
Residentie Orkest, The Hague/Willem van Otterloo
All recordings made in Amsterdam, Concertgebouw unless otherwise stated. Mono/*Stereo
CD contents detailed listing at end of review
CHALLENGE CLASSICS CC 72142 [13 CDs: 75:39 + 76:31 + 74:39 + 77:46 + 61:04 + 75:35 + 74:31 + 76:11 + 79:16 + 74:55 + 81:16 + 79:18 + 71:50]


The Dutch conductor, Willem van Otterloo (1907-1978) is an artist whose reputation may have faded somewhat with collectors. Accordingly it may be helpful to start with a few brief biographical details, drawn from the excellent booklet that accompanies this set.

He studied cello and composition at the Amsterdam Conservatory and first came to prominence by winning a composition competition organised by the Concertgebouw Orkest. The work with which he achieved this success was his Third Orchestral Suite (1932) and when Willem Mengelberg was unable to conduct the piece in a Concertgebouw concert van Otterloo took over.

About van Otterloo, the composer, I know precious little, I’m afraid. I only know of one work of his. This is the short, bracing Symphonietta (1943), scored for sixteen wind instruments. A recording of a 1944 concert performance in which van Otterloo conducted the Concertgebouw Orkest (as it then was) is included in the set of CDs, Anthology of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Volume I, 1935-1950 (Q Disc 97017). I strongly suspect that little of his creative output has made it onto disc.

Van Otterloo began his conducting career with the Utrecht Municipal Orchestra, whose assistant conductor he became in 1933. After holding a number of conducting posts in Holland he became chief conductor of the Residentie Orkest in 1949, at a time when the orchestra was, to quote Otto Ketting, author of the booklet note "a lacklustre ensemble". Some of the recordings included in this collection date from quite early on in van Otterloo’s tenure and I think it’s fair to say that on the evidence we have here it seems that he did improve the orchestra’s standards pretty quickly.

He stayed with the orchestra until 1974, I believe, conducting well over 1000 concerts. However, he was bitterly disappointed that he was not chosen to succeed Eduard van Beinum as chief conductor of the Concertgebouw Orkest and Ketting suggests that he became disillusioned with the musical life of his native country as a result. Van Otterloo subsequently took posts in Germany, Japan and Australia, where he was eventually appointed in 1974 to head the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, a post he occupied until his death. In July 1978 he was killed in a road accident in Melbourne just the day after he completed the sessions for a Chandos recording of Le Sacre du Printemps with the Sydney orchestra.

I think it’s worth quoting some of Otto Ketting’s comments on van Otterloo’s conducting style. He avers that van Otterloo "was by no means a dictatorial conductor, nor was he a glamour-seeker or showman. The music itself had the highest priority. His thorough knowledge of each and every score was legendary ….. [and] above all he was a true orchestral trainer …. He preferred taut, forward-moving tempos; he demanded orchestral discipline and total control; he had the uncanny ability to maintain a coherent musical line and never lost sight of the structure and form." I have quoted these observations because it seems to me that the virtues that Ketting describes are on display pretty consistently throughout this set.

Disc 1

This opens with the Berlioz Symphonie fantastique. It was one of the conductor’s favourite works and this is one of three recordings by him, the others dating from 1951 and 1974. Ketting tells us that van Otterloo "knew the score like the back of his hand" and it shows. He brings out very well the light and shade in the first movement, which is not an easy structure to hold together, and the orchestra plays sensitively for him. The second movement is light on its feet – a smiling waltz –while the Scène aux champs is most carefully balanced and voiced. The march has power and no little menace and the concluding Songe d’une nuit du Sabbat is darkly imagined. Here van Otterloo brings out the gothic side of the music – the bells are suitably eerie. Van Otterloo seems to have a real affinity for Berlioz and this reading of the symphony strikes me as an unqualified success.

Eight years separates the recordings of the Berlioz (1959) and the Weber/Berlioz piece that follows. Otto Ketting quite rightly points out that the intervening period saw great advances in recording technology. Here the earlier recording sounds boxy and much more closely miked but the sound is still perfectly acceptable. It’s a good performance too, with the waltz itself put across with excellent verve.

The two concert overtures by Johan Wagenaar were both new to me. The first, De Getemde Feeks (The Taming of the Shrew), is a vivacious offering and I much enjoyed both the music and the lively performance that van Otterloo leads. Near the start of Cyrano de Bergerac there comes a big tune for the strings. The melody, which is a fine one, is played for all it’s worth but never to the point of self-indulgence. For most of its course, however, the piece is lively and it’s played with fervour and brio – and the central lyrical section (from around 7:00) is done with no little affection. Both of these overtures are well worth hearing.

Disc 2

There’s more Dutch music in the shape of Diepenbrock’s Music to Sophocles’ Tragedy Electra. It’s rather a pity that the excellent notes don’t include a very brief synopsis of what the music is illustrating. However, notwithstanding that, the music can still be appreciated. Much of it is quite powerful and dramatic. Due to some tape deterioration the sound quality is a bit iffy but that can’t hide the fact that this is a charged performance.

I suspect van Otterloo was something of an enthusiast for the music of Max Reger - we are told that the two works in this present set were included in his programmes quite frequently. The performance of the Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Mozart is a fine one. The theme itself, which lends itself well to variation, is graciously laid out and thereafter van Otterloo proves himself highly sympathetic to the music. He keeps things on the move and he avoids the heaviness of which Reger is often accused – not always fairly. This is evident, for instances, in variations 3 – 5 while the next two variations are shaped most persuasively. I admired the warmth and the length of line that the conductor brings to the substantial eighth variation. The extended fugue accounts for nearly one third of the length of the entire work. Here van Otterloo achieves welcome clarity and so avoids stolidity. When the theme reappears just before the end its apotheosis is given a nice touch of grandeur.

No less admirable is the account of Eine romantische Suite. As Otto Ketting says, the first movement is in thrall to Debussy’s Prélude à l’après midi d’un faune. Van Otterloo performs it sensitively and sensuously – the latter not a word one would often associate with Reger. There’s nimble and delicate playing to admire in the second movement while the last of the three movements has plenty of light and shade at the outset. Later on there’s ample vigour and the final pages are imposing. One gets the feeling that van Otterloo really understands this music intuitively – he certainly presents it very well.

Disc 3

Ravel is to the fore on this disc. Firstly there’s his own Valses nobles et sentimentales. It’s quite clear from this performance that van Otterloo knew how to perform Ravel. The reading is alert and idiomatic and I admired the transparent orchestral textures that the conductor achieves. There’s also an excellent lift to the rhythms – sample the sixth section, Assez vif - and the music surges splendidly in the seventh section, Moins vif. The epilogue is beautifully handled – Ketting is right to single this out for special praise in his notes. I enjoyed this performance greatly and wondered what a van Otterloo La Valse would be like.

Helpfully all the sections of Valses nobles are separately tracked. That’s not the case with the recording of the two suites from Daphnis et Chloé and I rather regret that. The other regret I have about this performance is that we’re only given the suites. Van Otterloo’s account of this wonderful music is so good that one laments the fact that the whole ballet was not set down – would it have been the first complete recording, I wonder? From the opening measures of Suite 1 you sense that this is going to be an atmospheric and idiomatic reading. This can’t have been familiar music to the players for the First Suite in particular was much less frequently heard in those days than is the case now. However, the orchestra plays really well. The choral contribution is also very good. Van Otterloo builds the second section of this suite to a marvellous climax and then the third section is incisive and dynamic. The famous Daybreak in Suite 2 is beautifully controlled, unfolding splendidly. The conductor is patient and unhurried and this very patience, allowing the music to speak for itself, yields dividends. The second section of this suite is sensuous and beautifully shaped, with the first flute player deserving bouquets for some tremendous playing. Happily, but unsurprisingly, there’s no grandstanding in the concluding Danse générale. Van Otterloo keeps a tight rein on the proceedings and as a result the performance perhaps lacks the last degree of abandonment but it’s still exciting.

Ravel’s orchestration of Pictures at an Exhibition makes a logical coupling. In this performance van Otterloo brings out the different characteristics of the individual pieces well. There’s bite in ‘Gnomus’ and the somewhat menacing heavy peasant tread of ‘Bydlo’ is good. The little chicks cluck and scurry to good effect and the sharply etched ‘Samuel Goldenburg und Schmuyle’ features a wheedling trumpet. There’s dark power in the depiction of the Catacombs. ‘La cabane sur des pattes de poule’ is driven forward purposefully while its more eerie passages are tellingly realised it. Finally van Otterloo and his forces convey well the grandeur of the Great Gate of Kiev.

Disc 4

I rather like van Otterloo’s way with Haydn, as demonstrated here. Generally his approach is brisk, clean and energetic. In his hands the music may not smile as readily as it did for, say, Beecham but it’s still very enjoyable. By eschewing first movement repeats, three symphonies can be accommodated on one disc. The performance of Symphony 45, made like Number 55 for DG, typifies the approach. The first movement is crisp, the second graceful. The minuet is nicely turned, with some good horn playing, while the finale has excellent impetus and the adagio ending, during which the orchestral forces are gradually depleted, is well managed. The recording of Symphony 92 is much earlier but the sound is still decent. I admired the way the first movement allegro springs forward after a well-shaped introduction. The finale bowls along effervescently and with no little brio.

To complete the disc we get a brooding, taut performance of Schumann’s Manfred Overture. In this piece the allegro section moves on with great purpose and effect.

Disc 5

Otto Ketting describes the performance of the ‘Unfinished’ Symphony as "dark, severe and sober." I’m not quite sure I agree with "severe" but the rest is right. Personally I prefer the first movement’s basic tempo to be just a notch quicker than the pace chosen here but van Otterloo is still convincing. He leads a very well balanced and proportioned reading. The Residentie Orkest plays very eloquently for him and the performance displays inner conviction. The second movement glows darkly, once again benefiting from some excellent playing. Where Schubert calls for it there’s weight in the strings and listeners can enjoy some fine work by the woodwinds and the mellow horns. Overall this performance is an excellent one, bespeaking great integrity and fidelity.

I’m afraid I’ve never been able to work up much enthusiasm for the Rosamunde music, which I just find dull, especially the Entr’acte. However, I can report that van Otterloo plays these two excerpts with grace and Ketting is right to single out the principal oboe and clarinet for praise.

The soloist in Kindertotenlieder is Herman Schey (1895-1981), who was German-born but who based himself in Holland after 1936. The close recorded balance is something of a drawback but Schey sings well. He is very controlled and some may find him cool beside the likes of Janet Baker or Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau but I’d prefer to term his approach "objective". His even, clear tone gives pleasure though perhaps his performance of the first song is a bit unvaried and monochrome in timbre and expression. Thereafter he’s much more expressive for the remainder of the cycle. His voice is quite light, which helps him when Mahler’s tessitura is high lying. However. He has sufficient amplitude at the bottom of the voice too. In the last song, ‘In diesem Wetter’, Schey – and van Otterloo - displays suitably urgency at the start but in the second half of the song, where Mahler becomes nostalgic and regretful, the performance avoids maudlin sentimentality.

Disc 6

There’s more Mahler in the shape of the Fourth symphony. Otto Ketting observes that this performance "exhibits all the standard van Otterloo trademarks: faithfulness to the score, lyrical continuity and emotional restraint." Van Otterloo doesn’t "dig into" the music of the first movement in the manner of, say, Bernstein or Tennstedt. In this symphony in particular his somewhat fastidious approach has much to commend it but those looking for more of the "wild side" of Mahler to be brought out may be disappointed. For me, the profile of the second movement isn’t quite sharp enough. In particular I don’t feel that quite enough is made of accents.

The third movement suits van Otterloo much more. The opening string paragraphs are tenderly sung and overall there’s a good deal of lovely playing all round. The big Heaven’s Gate climax [16:33] is splendid, the horns ringing out superbly. The finale is interesting in that for this release a different take has been used since the one issued on the original LP was thought to be too closely balanced. Teresa Stich-Randall sings beautifully, mixing sophistication and wide-eyed innocence in the correct measure. The hushed last stanza (from 4:58) flows wonderfully and so there’s no danger of the music becoming stagnant, as I’ve heard more than once in other performances. Overall, despite one or two reservations, this is a good performance of the symphony.

The disc also contains a performance of Rachmaninov’s Paganini Rhapsody in which the soloist is the American, Abbey Simon (b. 1922). This is a somewhat lean, muscular performance but in saying that I don’t wish to imply that it’s devoid of feeling for that’s not the case. In the earlier variations Simon is lithe and gets excellent, deft support from the orchestra – the wind are somewhat prominent in the balance but I don’t mind this. The partnership between pianist and conductor is equally successful in the lyrical stretches of the work. The famous variation 18 is presented in a dignified, straightforward way and is certainly not milked for excessive emotion. The final payoff sounds a touch abrupt and matter of fact but this doesn’t mar a most enjoyable performance, which is of no little merit.

Disc 7

This is devoted to Bruckner. The Overture in G Minor is not too often heard even today and was an enterprising choice back in 1954. It’s an early work and, frankly, not that interesting. It contains few touches that are characteristic of the mature composer. However, van Otterloo plays it boldly and makes a good case for it.

It’s in the Fourth symphony that van Otterloo’s Brucknerian credentials are properly displayed. He brings to the reading the concentration and length of view that’s so necessary in Bruckner. There’s something of a sense of wonder at the start of the first movement, after which the second group is invested with grace and lightness. The brass contribute sonorously where required and I like the way that the wind decorations of the horn theme’s calm return [6:51] have a fresh, open-air sound. The climaxes are impressively powerful and there’s genuine nobility in the brass playing during the section from 9:24.

The second movement is taken very steadily - a fraction too steadily, I fancy. After all, Bruckner qualified his marking of Andante – which in itself should imply walking pace – with the words quasi allegretto. It just feels to me that the music should move on a fraction more. Yet other versions I admire, such as Wand’s 2001 performance (RCA) and Jochum’s first recording (DG) from 1965, actually take longer overall than van Otterloo’s 16:15, lasting for 16:51 and 16:46 respectively. For my money Karl Böhm gets things just right in his 1973 Decca reading, coming in at 15:28. I should report, however, that van Otterloo’s powers of concentration and the committed playing of his orchestra make this a rewarding listen nonetheless. In particular the string playing in the first 5 minutes or so is very eloquent and when the great climax arrives [13:55] it brings grandeur and a proper sense of release.

The scherzo has fire and bite and the trio is nicely moulded. Having expressed some reservations about the conductor’s pacing of the second movement I should say that in the finale he moves the music along very well while retaining the grandeur. There’s a sense of space and the performance is full of conviction. The build up to the concluding peroration is expertly controlled and the symphony ends in a blaze of glory. This reading may not quite have the sheen and tonal opulence of, say, the aforementioned Wand and Böhm recordings and perhaps the interpretation doesn’t quite match those readings in terms of vision. However, it’s still a pretty impressive traversal.

Disc 8

We’ve already heard van Otterloo to excellent effect in Ravel and here’s a little bonus in the shape of his very first Ravel recording, the lovely Pavane. By a whisker the tempo is just too slow, I feel – only by a whisker, though - but it’s lovingly shaped. Then it’s off to Spain for three dances from El sombrero de tres picos. In these the rhythms are pointed very well and there’s ample bounce and fire in the music. Worthy of special mention is the excellent cor anglais solo at the start of the ‘Dance of the miller’. The exciting tumult of the ‘Final dance’ is colourfully realised in a performance of much energy.

I was pleasantly surprised at the enterprise that sees the inclusion of two works by Morton Gould. These may well have been done largely for the benefit of the recording company since Otto Ketting tells us that van Otterloo never performed Interplay live and Spirituals only featured on his concert programmes a couple of times. Interplay, which I hadn’t heard previously, is a small-scale piano concerto that "brings Broadway to Carnegie Hall" (Ketting). It’s good to hear as soloist that fine Dutch pianist, Cor de Groot (1914-1993). This piece can’t have been at all familiar to van Otterloo or his players but the performance is unbuttoned and yet rhythmically precise. I love the tongue-in-cheek way in which the perky second movement, a Gavotte, is despatched and the slow movement, entitled ‘Blues’, is gently melancholic – de Groot is really convincing here. The finale is exhilarating. This may not be a first rank work but these Dutch musicians put it across really well and the performance, which is more suggestive of Harlem than Haarlem (sorry!) is most entertaining.

Spirituals, which is one of Gould’s best-known works, is more serious. It too is done very well. The blues-inflected ‘Sermon’ is played with feeling while ‘A little Bit of Sin’, which follows, is put over with relish. The last movement, ‘Jubilee’ has a Copland-esque feel to it and makes a suitably festive conclusion.

This disc is something of a Cook’s Tour. Having taken us to France, Spain and America, the last stop is Russia for Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto. Alexander Uninsky (1910-1972) is a nimble and skilled soloist whose playing also has adequate power when necessary. In the first movement Prokofiev mingles energy and lyricism and the performers here respond equally well to both aspects. The variations that form the second movement call for several changes of mood and the challenges of these often-abrupt changes are well met. The finale receives a dashing, energetic reading. At 2:43 the big, soaring lyrical melody, so typical of this composer, is ardently phrased by van Otterloo and his band. This performance of my favourite Prokofiev concerto gave me a lot of pleasure.

Disc 9

Having been round the world, as it were, with the previous disc, this CD sees van Otterloo very much back on home turf. It’s quite clear from the booklet that he took seriously the task of championing native Dutch composers. Earlier in the set we sampled some music by composers of an earlier generation but now the focus switches to what were, at the time, pretty much contemporary works. All of the music here was completely new to me.

Léon Orthel’s Second Symphony is a concise wartime work, which is both tonal and accessible. At the start we hear "sombre, elegiac opening phrases" (Ketting). Then a faster, energetic passage for the strings ushers in a powerful section in which the brass are much involved. Around 4:10 the music becomes slower and more pensive; here the strings and a regretful flute solo are to the fore. The passage between 5:20 and 7:00, which mainly features the strings and woodwind, put me in mind of Vaughan Williams’s Fourth and Sixth symphonies. This is followed by a more cheerful section, which could be taken for a brief scherzo, after which a short fugue paves the way for an exciting climax. A doleful clarinet solo [11:00] ushers in a slower, more reflective episode and then the brass lead a powerful ending. This impressed me as a serious, compact and worthwhile piece and so far as I can judge it is played with conviction and purpose.

The offering by Sem Dresden is altogether lighter in hue and is very approachable. It consists of seven short sections, the longest of which plays for only 3:01. The second, a ‘Siciliano’, is delicate and it’s followed immediately by an invigorating ‘Tempo di valse’. My ear was also caught by the charming fifth section, ‘Menuetto’ while the bustling, vivacious ‘Alla tarantella’ is a delightful conclusion.

Hendrik Andriessen’s Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Kuhnau is for string orchestra, though that’s not made clear in the documentation. It’s an interesting work, based on a stately melody and I think there are five short variations – I haven’t seen a score. What I believe to be the fourth variation is particularly impressive; it’s quite searching and deeply felt. The concluding fugue occupies about the last two minutes of the piece. The music doesn’t really break any new ground but it’s a good piece and I wasn’t surprised to learn that it quickly became a favourite among Dutch amateur orchestras. Here, of course, it’s in the very capable hands of professionals. Andriessen’s Ricercare is for full orchestra. Like its companion piece it’s not a mould-breaker but it’s accessible and well worth hearing. The music is interesting and sounds to be well written for the orchestra.

The most substantial of these Dutch offerings is Henk Bading’s Third Symphony, written when its composer was twenty-seven. Scored for a large orchestra it’s an ambitious piece. The first movement is strong and vigorous and the music is assertive. Even when the tempo and dynamics relax the tension doesn’t and there are some truly powerful passages. The second movement is described by Ketting as the "high point" of the work. It’s a scherzo that’s driving and energetic. It sounds to be very difficult to play but the problems are successfully surmounted on this occasion. For me it’s actually the Adagio that follows that is the pinnacle of the piece. The music is solemn and earnest and for much of the first three minutes or so the strings carry the burden of the argument. At that point a plaintive oboe solo paves the way for greater involvement by the woodwind section. This is a movement that expresses genuine emotion and I found it to be an impressive statement. The finale is possessed of an energy that almost seems manic at times. Frankly, the music of the finale is in a style of music that doesn’t greatly engage my emotions but it’s most interesting. In summary this is a symphony of some substance and it appears to be well served in this recording.

It many ways this disc is the most valuable part of the collection. It’s good to be able to benchmark van Otterloo in familiar repertoire. However, his work on behalf of native composers was surely a crucial element of his role as Music Director of one of the country’s leading orchestras and we need to be able to understand and appreciate this aspect of his work in order to evaluate him fully. Otto Ketting points out that today’s conductors of Dutch orchestras are nowhere near as assiduous in playing home-grown music.

Disc 10

The Grieg dances are nicely done. In particular a nicely turned oboe solo in the second one sets the tone for a charming performance while the third dance has a genuine spring in its step.

Most of the disc is given over to a complete performance of Beethoven’s ballet, Der Geschöpfe des Prometheus. I have to say that I’m in two minds about the inclusion of this item. I have no complaints whatsoever about the standard of the performance and it’s good to find van Otterloo – and Phillips – straying off the Beethovenian beaten track. That said, this is not exactly top-drawer Beethoven and part of me would have liked to see either another symphony or, perhaps better still, a concerto included instead. Also, while I’m in grumpy mood, though I think the documentation is excellent I wish the notes had included just a little detail about what this fairly unfamiliar music was actually illustrating in the ballet itself. For instance, the fifth number, marked Adagio – Andante quasi allegretto, includes a pretty prominent part for a harp. So far as I know this use of a harp is unique in Beethoven’s music and I’m intrigued as to why – and why only in this one number? In fact, this is one of the most engaging numbers and it also features a nice cello solo, which is well taken here.

Though most of the music shows the lighter side of Beethoven there’s depth in the seventh movement, a Grave. Section nine is good too: here Beethoven’s nobility shows through in the Adagio opening after which there’s an entirely characteristic Allegro. I admired the lovely, mellow clarinet solo in the Adagio section of number 14 and the finale employs material familiar from the ‘Eroica’ Variations Op. 35 and, of course, the Third symphony. The performance of this ballet score is a good one but on balance I wish we’d been given something a bit more substantial. Incidentally, Otto Ketting points out that, despite its "complete" billing there are a few cuts. As he puts it, three movements "have been wisely reduced, removing several altogether tedious repeats."

Disc 11

This disc contains another Beethoven rarity in the shape of the overture, Die Weihe des Hauses. I’m unsure why the piece isn’t played more often, even if its material isn’t as memorable as that of some of Beethoven’s other overtures. The solemn, grand opening eventually gives way to a bustling, festive allegro. The Dutch musicians give it a committed performance.

This very generously filled disc opens with a performance of Beethoven’s Eighth symphony, a piece I like very much. I’m a little surprised to find that Ketting characterises this as "a subdued, serenely pastoral, almost tentative performance." I’m not sure I’d agree with "tentative". True, the first movement isn’t as driven as I’ve heard sometimes but it’s still purposeful enough. The second movement ticks along in a genial way, but that doesn’t mean it’s not alert. The third movement, however, I find a touch severe – perhaps the pacing in a bit too solid for comfort – and the trio sounds a mite stodgy, though the horn and wind solos are well played. The dynamic finale comes off well. On the whole, though I’ve heard better and moiré joyful accounts, I think I’d rate this reading a little more highly than Ketting seems to do.

The recording of the Brahms First symphony sounds somewhat muffled after the cleanliness of the Beethoven 8th and in the main allegro of the first movement the violins sound more wiry that I suspect they truly were. Van Otterloo propels this section along strongly after the steady, almost deliberate way in which he lays out the introduction. Taken as a whole this traversal of the first movement is bracing and I enjoyed it. The second movement is ideally paced, I think, and it’s played with an excellent combination of affection and purpose. The contribution of the principal oboe is distinguished and there’s elevated playing from the leader and from the first horn in the last couple of minutes. The radiant close is beautifully managed.

There’s more fine playing to enjoy in the third movement and this time it’s the principal clarinet who excels. I don’t know why but I wasn’t completely convinced by the handling of the introduction to the finale. To me it just seems to lack a bit of bite. All is well when we reach the famous horn melody, however. The Big Tune is nobly sung by the strings, presaging a taut and well-disciplined account of the main body of the movement. The ending is exciting, bringing to a satisfying close a highly recommendable, traditional – in the best sense – reading by a conductor who clearly knew his Brahms.

Disc 12

We being with more Brahms; a trenchant performance of the Tragische Ouvertüre.

This was van Otterloo’s second recording of the piece. His previous effort, also with the Residentie Orkest, dates from 1948, before he began his permanent association with them. The bulk of the disc is given over to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. I detected a rare error in the booklet, where the timing of the scherzo is given as 4:29. In fact the track lasts for 11:05 and the correct overall timings both for the performance of the symphony and for the CD as a whole are as shown in the review heading.

The first movement of the symphony proceeds at a relatively measured speed but the conducting has real grip. I admired the contribution of the woodwind in particular, though the whole orchestra plays well. Van Otterloo shows himself to be very good at building and releasing tension. In his hands the coda demonstrates quite clearly where Bruckner learnt the knack of cumulative power through the use of crescendo.

The scherzo is very well articulated and the trio trips along nicely. The slow movement is nobly sung at a generous but not turgid tempo. The strings and woodwinds play with great commitment and no little finesse. Van Otterloo impresses by controlling the entire piece as a seamless, flowing entity.

When it comes to the finale the opening passages of rhetorical recitative and reminiscences of previous material are handled sagely. The Ode to Joy melody unfolds very naturally and during the course of this episode the bassoon countermelody, something for which I always listen out, is delivered delightfully. Herman Schey does not have the biggest voice one has heard in this work but he more than compensates for any lack of amplitude through the clarity of his vocal production. Also, the top notes present him with no problems at all. The soloists are nicely placed in the balanced but are not excessively prominent while the choir is realistically balanced behind the orchestra. The tenor, Frans Vroons, does what he can with his martial solo but almost inevitably he sounds strained – I’m afraid this solo is a prime example of Beethoven’s frequently ungrateful writing for the human voice. The demanding fugal section for orchestra that follows is strongly and clearly projected and after this the choir sings the Ode as if their lives depended on it. I agree with Otto Ketting that they do indeed "give it their all." The male voices in the chorus are especially impressive throughout. The solo quartet is dependable and the slow bars at "Alle Menschen" [21:37] are firmly anchored by Schey while Erna Spoorenberg soars beautifully over the top of the ensemble.

This is a very convincing performance of the Ninth and must be counted as one of the prime achievements of this set.

Disc 13

Beethoven’s Fourth symphony opens this final CD. This was a work that van Otterloo seems to have performed infrequently. The brooding introduction to the first movement is dark and well sustained, after which the allegro explodes into life. There’s splendid forward momentum in this movement. The slow movement is not, I think, one of Beethoven’s most inspired symphonic movements but van Otterloo plays it with warmth and affection. I’m always a bit puzzled as to why Beethoven termed the third movement ‘menuetto’ when, to all intents and purposes, it’s a scherzo. It’s well played here, with a sturdy rendition of the trio. The description "sturdy" also applies to the playing of the finale. There’s enough energy but I’d have liked more lightness and the impression given is one of fierceness. Overall, though, this is a pretty good account of the symphony.

Another, but very different, Fourth completes both the CD and the anthology. This was van Otterloo’s favourite Tchaikovsky symphony and this particular recording had the distinction of being the first classical LP made by Phillips with a Dutch orchestra – although Ketting suggests that the engineering may actually have been done by Decca. Certainly the recording is, as he says, very sensitive and picks up not only a great deal of orchestral detail but also a few extraneous noises – such as a pronounced thump at 0:11 into the slow movement.

The first movement is forthright and direct. There’s bite and power in the playing and van Otterloo controls everything strongly. In the bridge passage to the second subject there’s some excellent work by the solo clarinet and bassoon and, indeed, in the second subject itself all the winds acquit themselves well. The development section is tremendously exciting. Perhaps there are a couple of occasions hereabouts when van Otterloo could have eased up a bit but the listener is borne along on the tide of the performance. The Residentie Orkest play as if on the edge of their seats and in the coda a real storm is whipped up.

The acoustics of the Concertgebouw provide a resonant surrounding for the oboe solo at the start of the second movement. The playing is good but the phrasing struck me as a bit mannered. That this is down to the conductor rather than the player is confirmed by similar phrasing every time the melody recurs. There are quite a number of tempo modifications during this movement and I’m not sure I find all of them convincing. The melancholy bassoon solo at 7:35 is beautifully played but it’s distractingly over interpreted by van Otterloo. Overall I found the treatment of this movement a bit fussy. A sensible speed is adopted for the third movement. In this the strings play their pizzicati dextrously but with a nice amount of weight and the woodwinds gambol merrily. There’s plenty of openhearted merrymaking at the start of the finale. However, when the folk-like second subject is introduced on oboe and bassoon [1:35] the chosen tempo seems too slow and it’s noticeable that van Otterloo gradually speeds up when the full orchestra enters shortly thereafter, only to slow up again, just for a few seconds, at 2:39. I’m afraid this is irritating. From around 5:00 he conducts with electric energy in the passage leading up to the dramatic reappearance of the Fate motif. The coda brings an appropriately thrilling finish. There’s a great deal to admire in this recording. I feel it’s just a pity that van Otterloo over interprets parts of the second and fourth movements. For me this means that a very good Tchaikovsky Fourth doesn’t become an excellent one. Nonetheless this provides a rousing conclusion to this collection.


It’s been an absorbing and rewarding project to listen to these thirteen discs. My enjoyment has been greatly enhanced by Challenge Classics’ presentation of the set, which is all that can be desired in an historical set. The quality of the recordings is, inevitably, a bit variable but the sound quality is never a serious issue and the remastering seems to have been done very successfully. The 99-page booklet, which is in English and Dutch, is a model of its kind. There are copious black and white illustrations, including photographs of conductor and orchestra and many reproductions of the original LP sleeves. The notes by Otto Ketting are superb, presenting an excellent amount of information and comment about both the conductor and also the recordings themselves.

As to the music making, well I think I’d describe this set as revelatory. I must admit that Willem van Otterloo was a conductor to whom I’d not paid a great deal of attention in the past and, in truth, his star has rather faded since his death. His recordings have not had the highest profile since then but this set shows what a considerable musician he really was. He’s firmly in the Dutch tradition – which I much admire – of sensible, un-flashy, thoroughly musical conductors like Eduard van Beinum and, especially, Bernard Haitink. I’m left with four overriding impressions.

Firstly, van Otterloo must have been a considerable orchestral trainer. The playing on these CDs is remarkably good even if on occasions one realises one is not listening to an orchestra that possesses the tonal weight and refinement of, say, the Concertgebouw Orkest. Also, it would seem that van Otterloo achieved pretty high standards quickly for the earliest of these recordings dates from 1950, within a year of his appointment to lead the Residentie Orkest.

Secondly I’m struck by the range of van Otterloo’s tastes. There’s plenty of central repertoire here, to be sure, but that sits alongside Reger and Morton Gould. And, as we’ve already seen, he was a fine advocate of Dutch music. Furthermore, we should remind ourselves that one or two of the pieces by established composers, such as the Bruckner overture, were not common fare in those days. The fact that these were recorded reflects credit on Philips as well as on van Otterloo.

Then there’s the musicality and integrity of the conductor. There’s no grandstanding here. Furthermore, though none of the interpretations is dull or routine there were very few occasions when he does something unusual, prompting me to say to myself "I don’t like that".

Finally, and above all, this set offers a strong and poignant reminder of a lost tradition. Nowadays we read all to often that a particular jet-setting maestro has been appointed Music Director of an orchestra and that "Maestro X will spend a minimum of eight [or it might be as much as twelve] weeks each year with the orchestra". Contrast that with the likes of Barbirolli or Ormandy who spent years with one orchestra – and, moreover, spent the bulk of each of those years with their orchestra. Van Otterloo was like that: he’d regularly spend eight months of every year with the Residentie Orkest and by 1961 he’d chalked up 1000 concerts with them! Of course, such a commitment is a two-way thing and perhaps orchestras don’t want to be tied down to the same conductor for long stretches these days. However, the beneficial results of such a mutual commitment in terms of understanding, consistency and rapport, are self-evident in these recordings.

If I’m honest I suspect that today few of these recordings would be the first choice for the work concerned. However, were they to be issued separately I think that quite a few – the Symphonie fantastique, the Reger variations, most of the Ravel items and the Brahms First symphony among them – could stand comparison with most competitors. But to think in terms of library choices is to miss the point, I think. It’s hearing these recordings as a set that shows the scale of van Otterloo’s achievement with this orchestra. Otto Ketting explains that the poor acoustics of the hall where the orchestra regularly performed were pretty unsatisfactory – hence the use of the Concertgebouw as a recording location. This means that there’s no real legacy of recordings of live concerts by van Otterloo that is suitable for issue on CD. That’s a pity but I’d warmly welcome a follow-up volume of his studio recordings.

In his centenary year Challenge Classics has done Willem van Otterloo proud with this set and has done a great deal to restore the reputation of a seriously undervalued conductor.

John Quinn

CD Contents Listing

CD 1
Hector Berlioz - Symphonie fantastique
Carl Maria von Weber / Hector Berlioz - Aufforderung zum Tanz
Johan Wagenaar - De Getemde Feeks (Overture) (The Taming of the Shrew)
Johan Wagenaar - Cyrano de Bergerac (Overture)

CD 2
Max Reger - Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Mozart
Max Reger - Eine romantische Suite
Alphons Diepenbrock - Music to Sophocles’ Tragedy Elektra

CD 3
Maurice Ravel - Valses nobles et sentimentales
Maurice Ravel - Suites No.1 and No.2 from Daphnis et Chloé (Nederlands Kamerkoor)
Modest Moussorgsky / Maurice Ravel - Pictures at an Exhibition

CD 4
Joseph Haydn - Symphony No.45
Joseph Haydn - Symphony No.55
Joseph Haydn - Symphony No.92
Robert Schumann - Overture Manfred

CD 5
Franz Schubert - Symphony No.8 ‘Unfinished’
Franz Schubert - From Rosamunde:
Entr’acte No.3, Balletmusic No.2
Gustav Mahler - Kindertotenlieder (Herman Schey, baritone)

CD 6
Gustav Mahler - Symphony No.4 (Teresa Stich-Randall, soprano)
Sergei Rachmaninov - Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (Abbey Simon, piano)

CD 7
Anton Bruckner - Symphony No.4 ‘Romantic Symphony’
Anton Bruckner - Overture in G Minor

CD 8
Maurice Ravel - Pavane pour une infante défunte
Manuel de Falla - Three dances from El sombrero de tres picos
Morton Gould - Interplay ‘American Concertette’ (Cor de Groot, piano)
Morton Gould - Spirituals
Sergei Prokofiev - Concerto No.3 for piano and orchestra (Alexander Uninsky, piano)

CD 9
Léon Orthel - Symphony No.2 ‘Piccola sinfonia’
Sem Dresden - Dansflitsen (Dance flashes)
Hendrik Andriessen - Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Kuhnau
Hendrik Andriessen - Ricercare
Henk Badings - Symphony No.3

CD 10
Edvard Grieg - 4 Norwegische Tänze (4 Norwegian Dances)
Ludwig van Beethoven - Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus

CD 11
Ludwig van Beethoven - Symphony No.8
Ludwig van Beethoven - Overture Die Weihe des Hauses (The consecration of the House)
Johannes Brahms - Symphony No.1

CD 12
Johannes Brahms - Tragische Ouvertüre (Tragic Overture)
Ludwig van Beethoven - Symphony No.9 (Erna Spoorenberg, soprano, Maria von Ilosvay, alto, Frans Vroons, tenor, Herman Schey, bass, Toonkunstkoor Amsterdam)

CD 13
Ludwig van Beethoven - Symphony No.4
Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky - Symphony No.4


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