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CD & Download: Historic Recordings

Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No. 5 in E, Op. 64 (1888) [44:42]
Suite No. 3 in G major, Op. 55 - Theme and Variations (1883) [18:56]
Chant sans paroles in F [3:07]
New Symphony Orchestra (symphony)
London Symphony Orchestra/Landon Ronald
rec. April and May 1928 (Symphony) and December 1929 (remainder), London
HISTORIC RECORDINGS HRCD0005 [66:49]

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More fêted as a recording artist than Percy Pitt, less esteemed by posterity than Albert Coates, Landon Ronald (1873-1938) was in many ways more of a discographic pioneer than either of his British conductorial colleagues. He was also recording major Russian symphonic statements long before Beecham.
 
We know him now mainly for his accompanying - both on the rostrum, for Casals and Menuhin - but also for his collegiate piano accompanying in the early years of the twentieth century. He’s also known for a lacuna - the Elgar recordings he didn’t make, despite being known as a leading exponent of the composer’s music. Both HMV artists, his only such recording post-dates Elgar’s death.
 
Ronald’s is not a sexy name in the world of 78 conductors. For many years he was taken for granted, and his recordings tend to lie unremarked in cardboard boxes at record fairs. Why bother with Ronald when you can ferret out von Schillings? Well, fair enough, there is a certain ubiquity to many of his HMVs, but relative ubiquity is not an index of quality, or lack of it, and here we have been seriously remiss.
 
So it’s welcome news that this company has sought out Ronald’s Tchaikovsky recordings and restored them to the catalogue. They are electrics, well recorded for the time, well transferred now. The Theme and Variations from the Suite No. 3 in G major was recorded with the LSO in December 1929. Both conductor and orchestra were by now studio veterans and they acquit themselves with distinction. The string flurries are warmly communicative; the wind choir is personable and characterful. The ethos is buoyantly outward-going. One listens to Billy Reed’s violin solo from 8:40 with admiration, and so too to the driving but controlled bucolic invention and folklorically infused sections. The conclusion is forceful, dramatic and exciting. The side join at 15:53 is noticeable but not terribly jarring. The Chant sans paroles is a genial makeweight.
 
The Symphony No. 5 in E was one of Ronald’s major recording statements. He was paired with the New Symphony Orchestra, a busy outfit at the time who also recorded for Elgar. This is a reading of unaffected but trenchant symphonic control. It reveals Ronald to have been a fundamentally architecturally conscious conductor, and one for whom extraneous melodrama played little obvious part. Stylistically he is undoctrinaire, but he is not superficial, and nor is he reserved. There is a spirit indeed of noble seriousness to the endeavour. The brass registers well and one notices that the intensity of portamenti and expressive shading increases as the slow movement develops. It is cleverly applied but even cleverer is the fact that it’s not in the most obvious places. The clarinet principal is a fluent contributor - was he trained by Charles Draper? - and the finale witnesses some sinewy lower strings and plenty of tensile committed music making, and a splendid accelerando to the finish.
 
This isn’t the only Tchaikovsky-Ronald release from this company, and I shall be reviewing the other one in due course. This estimable enterprise, intelligently compiled and well transferred, represents an important restorative act.
 
Jonathan Woolf  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 


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