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CÚsar FRANCK (1822-1890)
Symphony in D minor (1889) [40:38]
Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
Pini di Roma (1924) [20:29]
Vienna Symphony/Yuri Ahronovitch
rec. live, Grosser Musikvereinsal, Vienna, March 1985
PROFIL EDITION PH08011 [61:07]

The Franck performance here is a travesty. Yuri Ahronovitch's basic musical instincts are forthright, as in the first movement's main theme but he favours extremes of tempo: the finale's two themes -- the first hectic, the second expansive -- are strikingly polar. Some of the tempo choices are counter-productive: the climax of the first-movement exposition, for example, is sodden rather than proclamatory. Ahronovitch also likes to push ahead impulsively, heedless of whether the players are staying together, or even keeping up with him. In the more involved counterpoint, balances come out every which way; the textures build in utter confusion. The more rhythmic tuttis are banged out insensitively. The uncertainty of the cellos and basses in the very second bar of the piece suggests unclear stick technique, which can't have helped; indeed, the whole thing sounds rather nervous.

In fairness, the simpler Allegretto movement allows less scope for the conductor's shenanigans, and the first theme's waltz-like lift is pleasing. Too assertive a demeanour, however, dissipates the mystery in the little wind chorales after 3:29, and the horns' entry at 8:52, on the way to the climax, is clunky and intrusive.

To matter at all, the Respighi would have to be a superior performance, and it isn't. The quieter moments are lovely. The lonely trumpet solo in the Catacombs movement is evocative; the woodwinds in the Janiculum are spacious and sensitive, with strings taking over expansively. However, the insecurity remains - at least one horn jumps the first theme by a beat - and so does the rushing. The rising, darting motifs at 0:39 start out scrambled, and, in the Appian Way, Ahronovitch pushes faster on each entry of the theme, losing any sense of cumulative power.

Forget it.

Stephen Francis Vasta
Stephen Francis Vasta is a New York-based conductor, coach, and journalist.