AntonÝn DVOR┴K (1841-1904)
Symphony No. 9 in E minor From the New World (1893) [38:45]
Georges ENESCO (1881-1955)
Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 in A major, Opus 11 No. 1 (1901) [11:57]
Romanian Rhapsody No. 2 in D major, Opus 11 No. 2 (1902) [11:32]
Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Franšaise (Dvorak)/Constantin Silvestri
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra (Enesco)/Constantin Silvestri
rec. (symphony) 10 July 1957, Salle Wagram, Paris; (Enesco) February 1956, Rudolfinum, Prague

As a Bournemouth schoolchild who attended most of the BSO's concerts during the Constantin Silvestri era, I have been thrilled to see in recent years the release of several BBC Legends CDs of their live performances; not to mention the radio broadcasts issued on Nimbus. I was just a bit too young fully to appreciate Silvestri's genius, but I was definitely aware that there was something very special about him. We should remember how he put Bournemouth on the map ľ to the extent of a fantastic reception at the Edinburgh Festival. Nobody would dispute the fact that nowadays the orchestra is technically superior in every department, yet there have been no more appearances at the Edinburgh Festival. The way Silvestri inspired his orchestra to play beyond themselves was quite extraordinary.

In passing, before I move on to the present CD, I might mention a couple of parallels with Barbirolli, though the two musicians were utterly different in many respects. Both he and Silvestri worked with a provincial British orchestra and achieved thrilling, moving and intensely musical results ľ not always the last word in technical precision, but deeply satisfying in terms of musical character. Both conductors were happy to make music with an orchestra which had grown familiar with their respective ways. Neither particularly desired a permanent move to a musical capital ľ though both worked as a guest with some of the very greatest orchestras in the world.

Silvestri recorded the New World twice with this French orchestra - this CD is a re-mastering of the first LP.

This performance may not be found in the 10-CD box Constantin Silvestri: The Collection, so it will be particularly welcome to collectors. Incidentally, it is well worth reading the on-line comments of a Mr. Jeffrey Lipscomb from Sacramento regarding this Silvestri box (Disky DB 707432). Both the French orchestral playing (woodwind intonation, for instance) and the recording quality are far from ideal, but we should be grateful simply to have more Silvestri on disc. In fact, in terms of commitment the French orchestra play as though their lives are at stake. This is a different world from so many dozens of bland, routine performances of this over-exposed symphony. As he did with so much standard repertoire, Silvestri creates an amazing freshness based on deep love and sincerity and embracing fiery passion and exquisite tenderness. His phrasing and handling of rhythm could be idiosyncratic, but these are the very qualities which give such character to some of the greatest performances.

How often do we hear the beginning of this symphony so achingly beautiful and heartfelt, the strings' fortissimo outbursts so violent? The Allegro molto begins with a terrific sense of purpose, creating an electricity which is sustained throughout. The slow movement is so often drearily sentimental, but Silvestri returns to us the original beauty of this music, its touching simplicity.

With explosive timpani strokes like gunshots, the scherzo bristles with energy. Listen to the delightful buoyancy of the accompanying strings at the Poco sostenuto, the ideally na´ve character of this whole passage. Then, at Figure 5, Silvestri's rubato gives little kicks to the rhythm and the violins' trills are characteristically pointed as a result. The opening of the finale (Allegro con fuoco) is truly fiery, with incisive brass, and again one is struck by the amazing commitment of the players. As our Mr. Lipscomb observed about another of Silvestri's recordings, you can really hear that the orchestra want to play for him. It is all marvellously alive ľ fresh, full-blooded, demonic in its intensity where it matters, and tenderly na´ve at such points as the new bassoon melody after figure 10 (Un poco sostenuto). Silvestri demonstrates that even an over-familiar work can still create a sense of wonder.

Nobody performed the Enesco pieces, especially the First Rhapsody, like Silvestri. I defy anyone to sit still throughout this Czech performance, such is the excitement generated. His Bournemouth performance from the Royal Festival Hall (BBC Legends) is absolutely essential, but on the other hand the Czech Philharmonic had a unique sound at this time.

There are no CD notes of any kind, but it is to be hoped that the disc itself will be a revelation to any listeners unfamiliar with Silvestri's genius.

Philip Borg-Wheeler

A revelation to any listeners unfamiliar with Silvestri's genius.