The death of Sir Charles Mackerras on 14 July 2010 has been widely
mourned in the musical world, and rightly so. This is not the
place to reprise the career of a man described in the obituary
in The Daily Telegraph as “one of the great polymath conductors
of the 20th
century”; that appraisal has been
done very well for MusicWeb International in the obituaries by
In a recording career that spanned some six decades Mackerras
made many notable recordings. He enjoyed a particularly rich Indian
summer on disc, not least in his superb Beethoven symphony cycle
for Hyperion (review
Then came his life-enhancing set of the last Mozart Symphonies
for Linn (review
and previously on Telarc, which was followed only recently by
an equally fine collection of five more Mozart symphonies (review
Just in the last few weeks the latest of his discs to be issued,
a set of the Dvořák symphonic poems for Supraphon
was enthusiastically reviewed
here by Brian Reinhart. I have that disc on order and am impatient
to hear it.
I don’t know what unreleased Mackerras recordings there
may be “in the can” - we can but hope for a few more.
In the meantime, Alto have gone back to the mid-1990s to bring
us this Berlioz collection, most of which is conducted by Sir
Mackerras was renowned as an operatic conductor and so it’s
quite appropriate to find him conducting Berlioz’s highly
theatrical symphony. He gives a very good reading of the piece.
There’s plenty of dramatic cut and thrust in the first movement.
Mackerras is alive to the ebb and flow of Berlioz’s imagination
and obtains lively and colourful playing from the RPO.
His account of the waltz is excellent. The romantic sweep is all
there and Mackerras observes all the little hesitations that give
the music its charm. He drives the concluding pages excitingly.
The ‘Scène aux Champs’ is also a success. Mackerras
quite clearly has the measure of this music, which is not easy
to bring off, and he conveys the atmosphere of the movement convincingly.
The last two movements are splendidly dramatic - with an impressive
tolling bell, which is in just the right proportion. There are
many fine versions of Symphonie Fantastique
catalogue but I don’t think anyone buying this one is likely
to be disappointed.
I greatly enjoyed Mackerras’ account of Carnaval Romain
as well. The lovely cor anglais melody, and all that flows from
it, is affectionately shaped while the lively dancing music is
vibrantly articulated. Sir Alexander Gibson’s performance
of the Benvenuto Cellini
overture makes an apt companion
and the reading is a good one. I’m less keen on Simonov’s
. The pacing is too deliberate, ponderous
even, and I’ve heard it done with a lighter touch and more
swagger by a host of other conductors. However, the fact that
this performance is a bit below par need not detract from the
attractions of an otherwise recommendable Berlioz collection.
The notes, though basic are serviceable and the recorded sound
is good throughout the programme