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CD & Download: Pristine Classical

Guido Cantelli's 29th appearance with the NBC SO
Johann Sebastian BACH
Christmas Oratorio - Sinfonia (1735) [7:12]
Luigi CHERUBINI (1760-1842)
Symphony in D major (1815) [27:26]
Richard STRAUSS (1865-1949)
Tod und Verklärung (1889) [23:47]
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Guido Cantelli
rec. 27 December 1952, Carnegie Hall, NYC

Experience Classicsonline

Between the Scylla of ‘Toscanini’s Anointed’ and the Charybdis of ‘What Might Have Been?’ lies the brief flicker of time accorded to Guido Cantelli (1920-1956). Both acknowledge unfulfilment, and also a sense of the provisional or contingent. Cantelli, though the subject of at least two decent biographical or bio-critical studies has still, it seems to me, evaded comprehensive critical judgement.
Few answers will be forthcoming from this disc. This isn’t to imply it’s of little artistic worth, or indeed unworthy of permanent preservation; but there are some problems. It’s appropriate that the December concert should begin with the Sinfonia from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. However, despite his best efforts, Andrew Rose has been unable to rectify the aural congestion which renders the strings especially confined, and also tonally acidic. Cantelli’s leisurely tempo is appealing enough.
The Bach was followed by Cherubini’s Symphony in D major, written in the year of the battle of Waterloo. There is rumble and hiss here, though it’s largely limited to the beginning and detailing emerges rather better than in the Bach. Doubtless this is because it and the following Strauss come from taped BBC rebroadcasts unlike the Bach which seems to come from a more primitive source. The Symphony is a spirited affair though ultimately lacking in much genuine inspiration. It goes through the symphonic motions well enough - warmly pregnant Largo introduction followed by affable Allegro; then a warmly spun slow movement followed by a bumptious Minuet and then a triumphant finale. Cantelli knew of Toscanini’s performance of this work, though there’s a lot of ‘must have’ and ‘probably did’ and our old friend ‘no doubt’ in the section in the brief booklet notes reprinted from Keith Bennett’s book. The recordings, by the way, are via Bennett.
It’s uncommon to find examples of Richard Strauss’s music from Cantelli. Tod und Verklärung represents an important slice and the sound is, again, decidedly better than in the Bach - though once again there’s some hiss at the start. Thenceforth things are much better. The performance is cogent, and well balanced, and salient evidence of Cantelli’s powerful control of the NBC as well as of the score’s many difficulties.
It’s the most important performance in this December 1952 programme, and an admirable one. The Cherubini is useful discographically. Aural problems throughout are evident but hardly overwhelming.
Jonathan Woolf 

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