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Franz von SUPPÉ (1819-1895)
Overture to Leichte Kavallerie (1866) [6:33]
Overture to Boccaccio (1879) [6:51]
Boccaccio-Marsch (1879) [2:36]
Overture to Pique Dame (1864) [6:45]
Humoristische Variationen (1848) [5:46]
Overture to Dichter und Bauer (1846) [9:26]
Marziale nach Motiven aus der Operette - Fatinitza (1876) [4:24]
Overture to Das Modell (1895) [6:35]
Uber Berg, uber Thal (date uncertain) [2:35]
Overture to Die schöne Galathee (1865) [6:51]
Juanita-Marsch (1880) [4:39]
Overture to Ein Morgen, ein Mittag und ein Abend in Wien (1844) [8:08]
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Neeme Järvi
rec. Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, 17-18 April 2012
CHANDOS CHSA5110 [79:42]
Now that his operettas don’t really hold the stage any longer, Suppé’s overtures and marches are pretty much all that keeps his name in the musical spotlight. A Viennese contemporary of Johann Strauss II, he worked in a lot of the same musical fields and he is often seen as an also-ran next to the more famous Strauss family. This disc reminds us of how unfair that is. Suppé’s music may not be challenging - the overtures tend to follow the simple pattern of slow-fast-faster - but it’s enormously attractive, and when played well, as it undeniably is here, it’s exceptionally appealing.
Light Cavalry starts the disc off as it means to go on, namely with gleaming brass sound, strings which are sharp in the faster passages yet sumptuous for the Hungarian theme, and clean-sounding tuttis with never a hint of orchestral fog. The RSNO displays these qualities in ample measure throughout the disc, and their playing is sensational from first track to last. The Chandos engineers have also done a marvellous job of capturing the sound so that there is a lovely bloom around the playing, giving it presence while still retaining clarity in the bloom. Most exciting of all, however, is the evident chemistry between orchestra and conductor. The sheer joy of making this music glimmers out of every bar. It really brings out the bandmaster in Järvi. He goes at Light Cavalry with splendour and pomp but his tempo is noticeably sprightly, especially in the famous gallop, giving the performance a sense of air and lightness that is incredibly attractive. Orchestral lavishness doesn’t often go with nippy lightness, but the combination works brilliantly here and really brings the disc to life. It’s something that’s repeated frequently, such as in the scampering strings in the faster section of the Boccaccio overture, or the famous Poet and Peasant Overture which moves from a delightful cello solo to a raucous full orchestral party.
Pique Dame begins with a persuasive string introduction and develops with a light, tripping wind melody, stopping off via some uproarious tutti passages en route and finishing with a tremendous sense of fun. A touch of Spanish colour enlivens the opening of Isabella and I loved the way Galatea’s quick-fire opening melts into a beautifully light waltz that Suppé then inflates to provide the conclusion. For me, Das Modell is probably the most impressive discovery on the disc. Here the composer alters things slightly and plays around with light and shade, displaying genuine sensitivity and a flair for building up a convincing musical structure, something not diluted by the usual crash-bang-wallop ending.
The marches on the disc are conventional but the orchestral clarity and relaxed manner with which they are played here makes them every bit as appealing as the longer overtures. The Humoristische Variationen are a racy, full-blooded set of variations on a Student Song made famous by Brahms in his Academic Festival Overture. They give each section of the orchestra a chance to show off not only their instrumental skill but also how much they are enjoying themselves. The lachrymose cello solo sitting alongside a flirtatious glockenspiel is a fine example of how skilful a musical chameleon Suppé could be.
However, the primary characteristic of the disc is sheer good humour. Everyone is having a whale of a time, and no doubt you will too. With such top-grade playing and sound, combined with a conductor who is letting go and enjoying himself, there is no reason to hesitate. Calum MacDonald’s excellent booklet notes help to seal the deal.
Simon Thompson
See also reviews by Dan Morgan, John Sheppard and Rob Barnett