I’m not a great believer in the idea that differences
in timings tell you much about the relative merits of different
performances. However, in a work of around an hour, where there
is a variation of more than fifteen minutes from fastest (Petrenko,
57 min.) to slowest (Rostropovich, 72), you can at least get
the beginnings of a sense of where the conductor is going.
Rather than give you exact timings, which are not helpful,
I’ve grouped them in blocks of time, with the first in
a group the fastest. Below are the times for the work as a
whole; I have placed the equivalent for individual movements
where each movement is being considered.
Sound and performance quality
To my ears, all the orchestras play well. There are a few instances
of ragged ensemble, and some ugly brass notes, but nothing that
mars an overall performance . I don’t think I will surprise
anyone when I say that as a demonstration of sheer orchestral
prowess, Haitink’s Congertgebouw is a clear winner.
Similarly, I can’t make fully informed judgments about
comparative sound qualities because some are from CD, others
downloaded as mp3s and others streamed. Suffice to say that the
best are the Haitink, Caetani and the Lazarev, the latter two
being hybrid SACDs, though I listened to the Caetani on a normal
CD player, and the Lazarev as a 320 kbps mp3 download.
So to the performances. Because it is such a large work, I felt
the only way to compare the eleven recordings was to do it one
movement at a time. I have to say that I found it rather challenging
to not repeat myself when trying to describe subtle, and sometimes
not so subtle, differences between performances.
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