Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Symphony No. 4 in E-flat, Romantic (1873/1881) [62:37]
Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No. 73 in D, The Hunt (1781) [21:27]
Symphony No. 26 in D minor, Lamentatione (1770) [14:16]
Symphony No. 82 in C, The Bear (1787) [22:56]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 33 in B-flat, KV 319 (1779) [21:32]
Symphony No. 35 in D, KV 385, Haffner (1782) [19:39]
Symphony No. 38 in D, KV 504, Prague (1788) [27:07]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Grande Messe des Morts, Op. 5 (1837) [82:36]*
* Paul Groves (tenor), EuropaChorAkademie
SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg/Sylvain Cambreling
GLOR CLASSICS GC 10321 [5 CDs: 62:37 + 59:38 + 68:18 + 47:34 + 35:02]
I only knew Sylvain Cambreling's conducting from his musical if sometimes pokey EMI account of Les Contes d'Hoffmann, so I was pleased by this opportunity to hear more of his work -- even if these concert recordings cover rather an odd cross-section of repertoire!
Still, it's good to see two full discs devoted to Classical symphonies - perhaps big orchestras are beginning to reclaim this repertoire from the "period-practice" fraternity - especially since the performances are the best in the set. Cambreling's way with Haydn reminded me of Bernstein's in the opening movements' balance between rhythmic weight and lyric grace, the stately demeanour and melodic flow of the inner movements, and the sheer exuberance of the finales. One might have liked greater contrast between forte and piano in the opening movement of La Chasse, and a less burly sonority throughout; still, these are winning, personable accounts.
The Mozart performances are nearly as good, with mobile tempi producing a lilting effect in the slow movements. If there's a cavil, it's that the woodwinds have less opportunity to register as a purely coloristic element against the full-sized string section than in chamber-scaled accounts - although that didn't bother me in the Haydn. Still, the elegantly shaped account of KV 319 is fetching, and the Haffner begins with splendid grandeur. In the Menuetto of the latter, convention dictates that the last two bass notes are played the first time around, but not on the repeat; here, they're not played either time - an odd choice, or a bad edit? The Prague returns to the exuberant manner of the Haydn; the Finale threatens to run away, but Cambreling keeps it under control - barely.
Similar tempo control issues crop up intermittently throughout the Bruckner: even in the final peroration, the brasses' triplets clearly come unstuck from the upper strings' eighth-notes. Cambreling's approach is linear and melody-based, yet spacious, with a gratifying weight to the harmonies; and his handling of detail is often distinctive. In the first movement, the grazioso treatment - both graceful and gracious - of the second subject suggests that the piece might be Bruckner's "Pastoral", rather than his Romantic! The Andante quasi allegretto achieves an almost sensuous beauty: limpid woodwinds and vibrant, burnished cellos and horns sing their lines fervently, and register warmly against the often spare textures. Only the famous hunting-horn Scherzo, where, for no clear reason, the brasses keep banging out the last two notes of the theme rather unmusically, disappoints.
Like the Bruckner, the Berlioz Requiem - on compatible SACDs rather than standard discs - comes off best in lighter-textured passages. The opening Requiem et Kyrie is splendid, with solo instruments, including the impressive trombone, ringing out solidly and clearly, and choral singing in which the parts are blended, yet clearly defined; had the whole performance been on this level, it'd be the "basic library" choice. The women's "Salva me" near the end of the Rex tremendae has rarely sounded so imploring. The start of the Lacrimosa is a noisy but not monolithic texture yet is crisp and incisive. The big moments are fine, but unexceptional - perhaps they're more impressive in Super Audio - and tempo insecurities creep in. In the Tuba mirum, the resplendent brasses miss the same dovetail twice, at 0:48 and 3:57. It’s an understandable lapse, given the spread-out brass positioning, but the same one twice? The "Mors stupebit" at 2:08 - after the first wall of sound - actually makes more of a musical impression. Choral coordination, too, is blunted, with the tenors retreating to a blanched, "French" timbre that, oddly, sticks out precisely because of its lack of color. Paul Groves sounds a bit nervous the first time around the Sanctus solo, but settles into a rather nice float for the repeat.
Despite the assortment of venues and the hazards posed by concert recording, the engineers have achieved remarkably beautiful and consistent results, with clear imaging and plenty of depth. Even the Berlioz, with its massed forces, mostly strikes a good balance between clarity and room-filling ambience.
Each disc or album with its own booklet in a shrinkwrapped "digipak," the whole within a shrink-wrapped cardboard slipcase. The packaging suggests possible separate issue, in which case I'd go for the Haydn, and perhaps the Mozart. The slipcase identifies this as a 4-CD set, but it definitely includes five discs, with the Berlioz spilling onto a second - which perhaps had not been the original plan! Surprisingly, the booklet for the Berlioz doesn't include the text.
Stephen Francis Vasta
Stephen Francis Vasta is a New York-based conductor, coach, and journalist.
I was pleased by this opportunity to hear more of Cambreling's work.
Berlioz: Konzerthaus Freiburg, March 2004; Alte Oper, Frankfurt, April 2004
Bruckner: Konzerthaus, Dortmund, September 2003
26: Festspielhaus, Baden-Baden, January 2005
73: Konzerthaus, Freiburg, February 2001
82: Kultur- und Kongresszentrum, Luzern, September 2001
33: Kurtheater, Bad Ems, June 2006
35: Konzerthaus Freiburg, June 2002
38: Festspielhaus, Baden-Baden, November 2005
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