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Emmanuel CHABRIER (1841-1894)
Espańa, Rhapsody for orchestra (1883) [7.03]
George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)
Rhapsody in Blue for piano and orchestra (1924) (orch. Ferde Grofé, 1926) [16.52]
George ENESCU (1881-1955)
Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 in A major, Op. 11, No. 1 (1901) [12.41]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Rapsodie espagnole (1908) [16.11]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 (1847) (orch. Karl Müller-Berghaus) [11.10]
Denis Matsuev, piano (Gershwin)
Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Mariss Jansons
rec. Live 8/9 October 2015 Herkulessaal, Munich, Germany
BR KLASSIK 900146 [63.57]

Mariss Jansons conducts a popular programme of five rhapsodies from the pens of Chabrier, Gershwin, Enescu, Ravel and Liszt, compositions spanning nearly eighty years. The booklet notes to this BR Klassik release concentrate on the theme of the development of the orchestral ‘Rhapsody’, and how the term itself originated in ancient Greece from professional performers of epic poetry into the form we know today.

In 1882 Chabrier made an extensive tour of Spain where he was inspired to write his rhapsody for orchestra Espańa, completing it the next year. Incorporating Hispanic folk music this is the French composer’s best known work. Jansons provides a satisfactory performance of this brilliant score although I can’t help thinking that additional exuberance and vitality would have improved matters.

Requiring a work suitable for a classical audience incorporating Jazz idioms it was bandleader Paul Whiteman who commissioned Gershwin to write his Rhapsody in Blue for piano and orchestra. Gershwin completed the work in 1924. Ferde Grofé re-orchestrated it for full orchestra in 1926. In that form it became one of the most famous of all American works. Russian pianist Denis Matsuev gives an upbeat performance, although there are more audaciously sparkling accounts around such as those played by Bernstein/Sony and Previn/EMI. Praise is due to the principal clarinet for such a fine opening solo.

Enescu wrote a pair of Romanian Rhapsodies for orchestra. They are a convincing infusion of Romanian folk rhythms and have captivated audiences for decades. Written in 1901 shortly before his twentieth birthday this first Rhapsody is acknowledged as the finer of the two. Here Jansons provides a performance of ample vigour.

Ravel’s instinctive understanding of Spanish themes came from his mother who spent her youth in Madrid. Indeed its version for piano for four-hands, delighted no less a Spanish composer than Manuel de Falla. Jansons is most convincing in the opening section Night Prelude creating a deepening nocturnal character and a sense of mystery contrasted with a seductive burst of colour. Especially enjoyable is the final movement Feria which uses prominent castanets to evoke a vividly colourful carnival scene. However, Charles Munch with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, recorded by RCA in 1956, performs the more dazzling account of this work.

In his lifetime Liszt wrote a set of nineteen Hungarian Rhapsodies for solo piano orchestrating six of them in collaboration with his pupil Franz Doppler. By far the most popular is No. 2, written in 1847, which Jansons conducts with considerable aplomb, using a different orchestration by Karl Müller-Berghaus.

Throughout this live concert Jansons doesn’t drive the excellent Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks as determinedly or with as much vitality as he might and can’t compete with the most exciting accounts available of each work. I have a number of Jansons’s live albums on BR Klassik recorded in the marvellous acoustic of Herkulessaal and this particular release is bass heavy and without the general treble clarity I have come to expect.

Michael Cookson



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