Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 6 in F “Pastoral” [37:10]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Peer Gynt Suites Nos. 1 and 2 [32:31]
Vienna Symphony Orchestra/Antal Dorati
rec. 20-27 September 1958, Konzerthaus,Vienna.

The Antal Dorati Centenary Society has been busy reissuing Dorati’s early mono recordings onto CD, many of them appearing in this format for the first time. These CDs are transfers taken from vinyl records and inevitably this is a limiting factor in terms of sound quality. This is however a laudable project. The first copy that I received of this CD had the first few bars of the symphony missing. Having contacted the Society I am pleased to say that the fault has now been rectified and the replacement CD can now be reviewed.

Dorati’s Beethoven is lyrical and glowing in the manner of Cluytens and Krips. From the very outset, the opening movement immediately brings us some gorgeous string sonorities. There is also a tremendously exciting horn section to be heard and they project really well in this 1958 recording. Alas, the exposition repeat is not taken so this may rule it out of court for some. Peasants Merrymaking is marred by some rather clumsy oboe playing and patches of rushing. Dorati’s Storm is as violent and hair-raising as you could wish for with some highly spirited playing. The bars that lead into Shepherd’s song are marred by some more clumsy and nervous playing, this time from the French horn. The solo horn playing throughout this movement isn’t up to the best international standards. It’s strange that this, the most lyrical of movements, receives less than lyrical treatment on this occasion. Shepherd’s song should be a joyful conclusion to the symphony but here it’s just too hard driven in places, in stark contrast to the rest of the interpretation. The orchestral playing is generally good without being anything special and the transfer, despite some background rumble, has been well managed.

The Viennese orchestra is in somewhat erratic form in the excerpts from Grieg’s Peer Gynt. Dorati tends to make too much of a meal of Morning with little interpretative touches that don’t add to the enjoyment of this lovely movement. Anitra’s Dance is nimble and light on its feet. In the Hall of the Mountain King has some poorly articulated lower string pizzicato playing at the opening and the bassoons seem to be following a different conductor. Things settle down and the climax is fine but it’s too little too late. The Arab Dance shows the orchestra in a more favourable light and Solveig’s Song is suitably morose and touching. The transfer is clean albeit with the slight background rumble also experienced in the Beethoven.

This CD is probably aimed at Dorati enthusiasts rather than general collectors. It doesn’t demonstrate his best work by any stretch of the imagination but it is a rare example of him conducting a Viennese orchestra. There are clearly many superior versions of both works to be found in the catalogue.

John Whitmore