125 Years of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra
rec. 1972-2013 
CHANDOS CHAN241-55 [2 CDs:162:21]

Do not be misled. This double CD set may have been released to mark the 125th anniversary of the founding of what is now called the Royal Scottish National Orchestra – it began life in 1891 simply as the Scottish Orchestra – but it makes no attempt to chart its long and fascinating history. No archives have been plundered to unearth long-forgotten recordings under such eminent former Principal Conductors as Barbirolli, Szell, Susskind or Weller, and while there are a few archive photographs in the booklet, including a most peculiar one of former Principal Guest Conductor Matthias Bamert dressed as some kind of 1930s ham actor, this is far from being any kind of historical document covering the orchestra’s first century-and-a-quarter. What it is, purely and simply, is a random collection of tracks taken from the Orchestra’s lengthy relationship with Chandos; a relationship which has lasted as long as Chandos has been in existence (some 37 years). Chandos certainly owes the RSNO a debt of gratitude; it was, after all, the RSNO which helped establish, through some landmark recordings particularly under Alexander Gibson and Bryden Thomson, what we now recognise as the “Chandos Sound”.

Homage is duly paid to the role the RSNO played in Chandos’s establishing itself as a leading independent label, with the inclusion of two tracks from the pioneering CD, first released in 1983, of The Planets which was the label’s first all-digital release. At the same time the inclusion of Holst’s most famous work pays tribute (although it is not mentioned in the hugely disappointing booklet) to one of the orchestra’s former members; Gustav Holst was second trombone with the Orchestra from 1900 to 1904. Innumerable Planets have come and gone on CD, but both as a performance and as a vivid sonic experience, this still holds its own with the best of them.

One area in which the RSNO/Chandos discography is surprisingly short is music by Scottish composers, featuring Scottish soloists or, even, with a Scottish theme. Of course, Mendelssohn’s Hebrides is here, but in a 1981 recording under Gibson which, with scratchy orchestral playing and thin sound, perhaps might have been best avoided. The only other Scottish thing is Hamish MacCunn’s Land of the Mountain and the Flood, also extracted from the 1981 disc of “Scottish Overtures” but sounding here altogether more wholesome.

The real strengths of the RSNO/Chandos partnership seem to lie in the 20th century Russian repertory recorded under Neeme Järvi, in which both orchestra and label have truly excelled. We have a riveting account of an extract from Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky, complete with a powerfully Russian-sounding RSNO Chorus, and a truly scintillating performance of the first movement of Shostakovich’s Second Violin Concerto, Lydia Mordkovitch as the peerless soloist. There is also a hugely enjoyable account of “Winter” from Glazunov’s Seasons.

Other highlights include a deeply moving account under Bryden Thomson of the slow movement from Martinů’s First Symphony, reminding me (and, possibly others) that one of Thomson’s last recording projects was his remarkable survey with the RSNO of all six Martinů symphonies. There is a lovely performance of Debussy’s Sirènes taken from Stéphane Denève’s 2012 set of all Debussy’s major orchestral works, while the presence of the timpani in Thomson’s vivid account of the last movement from Nielsen’s “Inextinguishable” Symphony pays dramatic tribute to the wonderful balance and engineering work which informs almost every one of these Chandos recordings. Bringing things right up to date, the most recently recorded track is taken from the 2013 release of John Adams music directed by the RSNO’s current Music Director, Peter Oundjian.

Marc Rochester

Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Prelude to Tristan und Isolde [6:37]
Neeme Järvi (conductor) – recorded 2009
Hamish MACCUNN (1868-1916)
Land of the Mountain and the Flood [9:49]
Alexander Gibson (conductor) – recorded 1981
Carl NIELSEN (1865-1931)
Symphony No.4, Op.29 – “The Inextinguishable”: 4.Allegro-Glorioso-Tempo giusto [10:05]
Bryden Thomson (conductor) – recorded 1992
George ENESCU (1881-1955)
Romanian Rhapsody, Op.11 No.1 [13:22]
Neeme Järvi (conductor) – recorded 1990
Anton WEBERN (1883-1945)
Passacaglia, Op.1 [10:55]
Matthias Bamert (conductor) – recorded 1987
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Four Last Songs: 2 “September” [4:16]
Felicity Lott (soprano)
Neeme Järvi (conductor) – recorded 1986
Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
The Planets, Op.32: 1.Mars, 2.Jupiter [14:49]
Alexander Gibson (conductor) – recorded 1980
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Alexander Nevsky – 5.The Battle on Ice [13:00]
Scottish National Orchestra Chorus, Neeme Järvi (conductor) – recorded 1987
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
The Hebrides Overture, Op.26
Alexander Gibson (conductor) – recorded 1981
Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
The Seasons, Op.67 : Scene 1 – Winter [ 6:58]
Neeme Järvi (conductor) – recorded 1987
Camille SAINT-SAENS (1835-1921)
Danse Macabre, Op.40 [6:56]
Alexander Gibson (conductor) – recorded 1972
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Violin Concerto No.2 in C sharp minor, Op.129 – 1.Moderato [13:02}
Lydia Mordkovitch (violin)
Neeme Järvi (conductor) – recorded 1989
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Nocturnes: 3.Sirènes [10:14]
Women of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra Chorus
Stéphane Denève (conductor) – recorded 2011
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Lieutenant Kije Suite, Op.60 : 4.Troika [3:08]
Neeme Järvi (conductor) – recorded 1989
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Symphony No.5 in E flat, Op.82 : 3.Allegro molto [9:01]
Alexander Gibson (conductor) – recorded 1982
Bohuslav MARTINU (1890-1959)
Symphony No.1 : 3.Largo [8:13]
Bryden Thomson (conductor) – recorded 1990
John ADAMS (b.1947)
Harmonielehre : 3.Meister Eckhardt and Quackie [ 11:27]
Peter Oundjian (conductor) – recorded 2013

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