Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Romeo and Juliet - Fantasy Overture* [18:27]
Symphony No 5 in E minor, Op. 64 [44:10]
*Philharmonia Orchestra; Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala, Milan/Guido Cantelli
rec. *13 October 1951, Abbey Road Studio 1, London; 23, 26 September 1951, Abbey Road Studio 1, London

I’ve known this recording of Romeo and Juliet for some time through a Testament issue (SBT 1316). It was made shortly after Cantelli had included the work in his debut concert with the Philharmonia at London’s Royal Festival Hall in September 1951. It’s a fine reading. Cantelli generates tension in the opening pages - though, characteristically, he doesn’t overdo the tension; the performance is very well controlled. When the main allegro is reached one really feels the cut and thrust of the music, thanks in no small measure to the keen and dynamic playing of the orchestra. Later, the love music sweeps the listener along. At the end Cantelli finds dignity as well as melancholy. The sound is good with a pleasing amount of space around the orchestra.
The recording of the Fifth Symphony is one that’s eluded me up to now. It was made at hastily arranged sessions following an acclaimed performance of the symphony that Cantelli had conducted at the Edinburgh Festival during a short British tour by the La Scala company. I’m not sure but I suspect this tour, on which Cantelli was just one of the conductors, may have been the young conductor’s UK debut.
The La Scala orchestra plays well here, though I’d suggest that the Philharmonia is, overall, the more polished ensemble. After a sober introduction, the main allegro of the first movement is well controlled and sprightly. Cantelli obtains lively playing and the music surges forward with a good degree of urgency. The solo horn plays the famous solo in the second movement with rather more vibrato than I might have expected; does this indicate a French influence? Cantelli brings out the passion in the music but, typically - and thankfully - there’s nothing indulgent in his reading. He takes the third movement at quite a steady pace. I prefer a slightly faster speed but the music is well phrased so I enjoyed the performance. The andante maestoso at the start of the finale is noble. One always waits with bated breath at the end of the andante to see how fast the conductor will take the allegro vivace. Many take the music at a cracking pace but only a few of these - Mravinsky being the obvious example - really get away with it; all too often the music sounds too hasty. Cantelli is not a speed merchant; he paces the music intelligently and sensibly; all the energy and fire is there but one doesn’t feel that things are being taken to extremes. I don’t think this performance is in the same league as Cantelli’s account of the Pathétique set down with the Philharmonia a year later (PASC 269) but it’s still a considerable achievement.
The transfers are the work of Mark Obert-Thorn and he’s done an excellent job in both cases. This issue will be self-recommending to all admirers of this great conductor.
John Quinn
Self-recommending to all admirers of Guido Cantelli. 

Masterwork Index: Symphony 5