Having recently reviewed Warner’s 18 CD set
devoted to the recordings of that stalwart of the British conducting scene, Sir Malcolm Sargent, there was a notable absence of any Russian repertoire. I was pleased when this CD from the Swiss company Guild landed through the post box, as it redresses the balance, with a disc devoted to Sargent’s take on Tchaikovsky. One further delight was to be reacquainted, after many years, with these recordings which I first owned — with the exception of the Theme and Variations
from Suite No. 3 — on an HMV Concert Classics LP back in the sixties. Opening the booklet, the first page contains a photo of that very LP, bringing back happy memories of long ago and a feeling of déjà vu. In fact, this LP was my introduction to the Russian composer’s music.
With a recording career spanning 42 years (1924-1966), Sargent amassed a sizeable and varied discography. He was atypical in that he worked freelance, never signing exclusively for one label: ‘Anyone can employ me to conduct, any soloist can ask for me and any record company can issue me. I have never signed myself up exclusively anywhere or with anyone’. In the forties, fifties and early sixties he was one of the pillars of the English concert scene and was at the helm of the Hallé (1939-42), the Liverpool Philharmonic (1942-48) and the BBC Symphony Orchestra (1950-57). As chief conductor at the Proms (1947-67) he had tremendous influence in the programming of concerts, conducting nearly 50% of them himself. His popularity also rests on his forays into lighter music. He had a great interest in Gilbert and Sullivan and conducted performances at the Savoy Theatre in London. Eight of the G&S operas were recorded by him. Other activities included the Courtauld-Sargent Concerts, the Robert Mayer Children’s Concerts and the Royal Choral Society. He was knighted in 1947.
These are warm and committed performances in satisfactory sound for their age, the RPO contributions being in stereo, whilst the earlier Philharmonia session is in mono. Orchestral detail is discernible throughout. Sargent has a real feel for this music. In Marche Slave
he achieves a true Slavic passion. Romeo and Juliet
isn’t allowed to wallow in sentimentality but, with emotions tightly under wraps, he lets the music just speak for itself. The Sleeping Beauty Waltz
is imbued with grace and charm. In the Theme and Variations
from Suite No. 3, the variations are individually well-characterized, with each showcasing orchestral colours. I admire the fine solo contribution from the orchestra’s leader Manoug Parikian. Sargent achieves a wonderful dynamic range in the 1812 Overture
, which is as incisive and energized a performance as you are ever likely to hear. All in all, these are masterly performances of exciting music-making.
This is a very desirable release and serves both as a satisfying recording in its own right, and as a ‘Russian’ supplement to the Warner Icon set. In a crowded playing-field these recordings stand up well. Robert Matthew-Walker provides illuminating background notes, which are in English only.