Heinrich August MARSCHNER (1795-1861)
Der Vampyr: Overture (1828) [6:56]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Die Hebriden (Fingalshöhle), Overture (1829) [9:51]
Ein Sommernachtstraum, Op. 21: Overture (1826) [12:23]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Manfred Overture, Op. 115 (1848) [12:05]
Otto NICOLAI (1810-1849)
Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor: Overture (1846) [8:03]
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Der Freischütz: Overture (1821) [10:11]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Leonore Overture No. 3, Op. 72 (1806) [13:57]
Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra/Sebastian Lang-Lessing
rec. Federation Concert Hall, Hobart, February 2004 and May 2004
ABC CLASSICS 476 7736 [63:27]
This sort of "calling-card" programme, besides making for pleasant listening, once served a practical purpose, allowing both new and established performers to showcase their talents in varied repertoire. If the disc included a previously unrecorded or otherwise hard-to-find work, so much the better, though veteran collectors could find the concomitant duplication of standards a nuisance.
We probably won't be seeing much of this kind of collection in the future, however. Digital downloading makes it easy to acquire individual items, so you can get, say, the overture to Der Vampyr without taking on a flock of pieces you don't want, or need, to duplicate. Nor will an unfamiliar or inexperienced artist be pressured to record a full album's worth of material: a few carefully chosen items will suffice as an introduction -- returning us to the situation in the days of 78 rpm, but without the stores!
Meanwhile, I'm pleased to have "met" the Tasmanian Symphony and its music director, Sebastian Lang-Lessing. The orchestra's tone is polished; and its focused sonority makes a good impact, though string sections in isolation can sound less impressive. Lang-Lessing's interpretive instincts are healthy: he usually keeps things flowing, but also knows how to let the music "breathe". The pensive opening of Die Hebriden is spacious; the introduction to Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor moves along easily, maintaining a similar spaciousness. An intermittent problem, presumably technical rather than musical, is the conductor's heavy-handed execution of sectional ritards.
The Midsummer Night's Dream Overture, which concludes the programme, comes off best here. Lang-Lessing infuses the fluttering string figures with a nice tensile strength, without overdriving them, and brings out the varied musical elements of the more heavily layered textures. The Nicolai is similarly fine: the body of the piece, once past the introductory chirping, is graceful and shapely.
The Schumann and Marschner overtures - the latter cast in a similar post-Beethoven style - get gripping performances, with the violins playing the energetic gestures with a taut vigour. Both are marred slightly by clumsy tempo manoeuvres. The transitional slowdown in the Marschner is noticeably stiff - after which the second theme snaps back into tempo! A slower, tempo for the second theme of Manfred, completely unrelated to the original, breaks the momentum of the piece for a bit.
Small blemishes, which might well pass muster in concert, compromise other selections. In the atmospheric Hebrides, the lead-in to the recap is awkward, and the balance in the clarinet duet a few pages later is off. Der Freischütz has many good things in it - the horn duet near the start is evocative - but, in the final tutti, the anaemic high thrust at 9:25 is a let-down.
Unfortunately, the Beethoven, the most substantial piece on the programme, comes off weakest. Lang-Lessing has some good insights: he uses the trim rhythmic pattern of the basses to propel the start of the Allegro, and makes the final Presto both lilting and weighty. Positives, yes, but reticent playing is a problem. The opening fortissimo attack is a bashful thud; the octave string runs in the development are blurry and underpowered; and the episode at 8:27, after the second trumpet call, sits there, limp and dispirited.
I liked the sound, but the producers weren't paying enough attention to the spaces between tracks. An extra second or two between Der Vampyr and Hebrides would have helped. On the other hand, there's too much time between the Nicolai and Weber items; then, the latter's final chord has barely cleared when the Beethoven begins!
Stephen Francis Vasta
Stephen Francis Vasta is a New York-based conductor, coach, and journalist.
Some fine things here but also some misfires.
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