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Spirit of Scotland
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
The Hebrides op.26 (1832) [10:16]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Rob Roy (1831) [13:03]
Malcolm ARNOLD (1921-2006)
Tam O’Shanter op.51
Four Scottish Dances op.59 [08:31]*
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Macbeth: Ballet Music (1865) [10:10]
Hamish MaCUNN (1868-1916)
Land of the Mountain and Flood (1887) [09:56]
National Orchestra/Sir Alexander Gibson, Philharmonia Orchestra*/Bryden
rec. 29-30 June 1981, Henry Wood Hall (SNO Centre), Glasgow,
7-8 February 1990*, St. Jude’s Church, Central Square, London*
A highly attractive and colourful sequence, excellently
In 1975 Sir Alexander Gibson set down for Classics for Pleasure a version of “The
Hebrides” in which the cold Atlantic breakers roiled
powerfully. In 1981 the waves lapped more gently at the
beginning, with a slight yielding at the end of each one
followed by a slight push as the next starts. His control
over phrasing has become more refined while at the other
end of the scale the storm music seethes more powerfully.
What was already a fine performance now has a touch of
That was the trouble with Gibson. Having followed the then
SNO seasons for four years in the early 1970s I can recall
when it really did seem that a great conductor and orchestra
were emerging. But there were many occasions that were just
rather ordinary and some where he didn’t seem to give a damn.
There was a Rachmaninov Second Symphony that was the talk
of the town. The recording that followed was good, but not
that good. There was an Elgar 1 all aflame, followed by a
rushed, lackadaisical shadow of itself a few months later.
The recording was somewhere between the two. But still, when
he was on form …
Berlioz had a considerable importance in his career. It was
his Scottish Opera performance of “The Trojans” that put the opera on
the map, ahead of Sir Colin Davis’s Covent Garden productions.
It was a landmark for him, for Scottish Opera and for Janet
Baker. I recall a concert performance of the “Royal Hunt
and Storm” where, with the arrival of the storm, the whole
orchestra suddenly caught fire. It was truly incandescent.
He’s on pretty spiffing form here. In “Waverley” he makes
no concessions to the orchestra with a main tempo that would
have stretched Munch’s Bostonians. The SNO cope pretty well.
In “Rob Roy” he allows no pomposity in the “Scots wha hae” sections
while he dwells tenderly and lovingly on the “Harold in Italy” theme.
Poetry wasn’t always his strong point but it’s not lacking
In between these “Tam O’Shanter” goes with tremendous panache. In
a recent letter to “Gramophone” (February 2007) a reader
recalled how, at the end of the first Scottish performance
of this piece, in 1955, greeted with wild enthusiasm, Gibson
turned to the public, said “Not bad for a Sassenach!” and
repeated the finale. It doesn’t seem to have staled with
The Verdi is a pleasant reminder of Gibson’s work in the opera house,
though I doubt if he included the ballet music in his Scottish
Opera performances of Macbeth. Verdi would probably have
agreed. Forced to provide ballets for the Paris productions
of all his works he obliged like the professional he was,
but it’s the least interesting music on the disc.
To eke out the original LP timing, we get Bryden Thomson’s recordings
of Arnold’s “Scottish Dances”. These lively, sensible performances
are OK until you get out Arnold’s own versions on Lyrita.
With tempi that would raise eyebrows if he were not the composer
thereof, he finds almost symphonic dimensions in these apparently
innocent little pieces.
MacCunn’s overture, with its perky main theme and warmly romantic
secondary theme both equally memorable, was a hit in its
own day. For a while it became so again when the BBC chose
the opening of Gibson’s first recording, from the 1960s (EMI)
as the signature tune for “Sutherland’s Law”. I don’t have
the earlier recording to hand and I heard him give an over-hasty
performance of it in Edinburgh but all is well here.
With brilliant recording and highly informative notes by
Andrew Keener, who would be unlikely to find time from record-producing
for such writing today, this is a fine reminder that the
Gibson legacy is worth another look – but only the best of
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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