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Eleven 11s
8. Conclusions
by David Barker


Conclusions
So after all this, I need to bring it all together and make a decision about the overall performances. The only way I could see to achieve this was to rate each movement for each performance. I used a simple scale of -2 (poor) to +2 (outstanding), and then added them together to give me the final ranking. I don’t feel it is necessary to give the actual point scores here, suffice to place the recordings in their final order, and make some summary comments where appropriate.

While it might be thought that this arithmetic approach is too simplistic for such a subjective endeavour, I look at the ranking below, and find that it matches fairly well my overall impressions. However, the flaw in the numerical approach is that it makes the ranking seem very cut and dried.

In reality, you would be delighted to have any of the first three, and the next three were only found wanting in one movement. The last two are both a surprise and a puzzle: why did I respond so poorly to them, when so many other reviewers have praised them? I guess it is further evidence, as if any more was needed, of the subjective nature of reviewing.

1. Paavo Berglund - I hadn’t heard this before beginning this article, only read a lot of reviews which had it as their gold standard. I can certainly understand why - it is now mine as well. There were few false moments - almost everything seemed apposite. Stated very simply, the performance impressed me for a greater proportion of its duration than any of the others. What a shame that it is currently out of the catalogue.

2. Oleg Caetani & Bernard Haitink - I am pleased that the two recordings I did have in my collection which I had admired showed up so well. It was not possible to do this as a “blind listen” so I imagine there will have been some desire to hear what I wanted, but hopefully not too much.

4. Dmitri Kitajenko, Alexander Lazarev & Vasily Petrenko - The common element with these three was one flawed move movement: Kitajenko - IV, Lazarev - III & Petrenko - I.

Kitajenko was a real surprise. As already described, it was the last one to make the list, and on the basis of a lesser-known orchestra and a conductor whose name was unfamiliar to me (see Footnote 3), I would have expected it to be in last place at the end. However, the inner movements were without peer, and its only failing was the finale.

As for the Lazarev: if only there had not been the error in judgement with the third movement tempo, this could have been first choice.

The Petrenko was somewhat of a sleeper, as it didn’t strike me as particularly impressive on first listen. However, its qualities manifested themselves during the intense comparisons. It is undoubtedly a jewel in the Naxos crown. 

7. Mstislav Rostropovich & Rudolf Barshai - Two conductors with ties to the composer himself, but finding themselves well down the order. I was immensely disappointed with Rostropovich’s much-lauded performance when I bought it a few years ago after all the reviews, but this survey did demonstrate its good points to me, and as with the Lazarev, it was mainly one movement that caused the problems. The Barshai made little impact in either direction.

9. Gennady Rozhdetvensky - Far too much in the way of exaggerated tempos to appeal.

10. Leopold Stokowski - This convinces me that any preconceived notions that I brought to the survey did not overly affect my judgement, as I fully expected this be my number one choice at the end. The first three movements were no more and no less than adequate, and the last was dire.

11. James DePreist - As I said before, I fail to see how this could have gained a Penguin Guide recommendation. Bear also in mind that I rejected his other Delos recording with the Oregon SO!

Whatever your opinion, whichever is your favourite, I hope this might induce you to dig it out and play it.

Conclusions

Footnote
3. A little research has elicited the long and glorious history of the Cologne Gürzenich Orchestra and its conductor in this recording. The orchestra has been around since the 1820s and premiered Mahler’s third and fifth symphonies and Brahms’s double concerto, among others. Kitajenko won the first Karajan conducting competition, and was musical director at the Moscow Phil for more than a decade, among other postings. 

 


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