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Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14 (1830) [48:11]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Violin Concerto in D minor, Op.47 (1903 rev. 1905) [31:45]
Steven Staryk (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra/Antal Doráti
rec. 11 October 1960, Brangwyn Hall, Swansea

The latest release from the Antal Doráti Centenary Society to come my way is this live concert from the 1960 Swansea Festival. It preserves two works; the Symphonie fantastique and Sibelius’s Violin Concerto and comes courtesy of Bill Newman. These BBC broadcast performances are previously unpublished.

Of the two, the Sibelius is heard in the more worn condition, the masters having some scratches and thumps, though things improve as the concerto develops. The sound picture itself is otherwise perfectly reasonable for the time. Doráti wasn’t much associated with Sibelius and I think his feelings for the composer could appropriately be described as somewhat tepid. He did record some of the tone poems with the LSO and the Second Symphony with the Stockholm Philharmonic but no other surviving performance of the Concerto is known to me.

He brings out some loamy lower strings from the London Symphony and provides a strong orchestral canvas for his soloist, the Canadian-born Steven Staryk, about whom I’ve written a number of times. Staryk had left his role as leader of Beecham’s RPO the previous year in acrimonious circumstances and was then made concertmaster of the Concertgebouw Orchestra. But he seems, unlike Herman Krebbers, say, to have found it hard to carve out soloistic opportunities in Holland and he travelled back to Britain from time to time to pick up such engagements which means - if my chronology is correct, as there are no notes in these releases, just generic introductions - he was doing precisely that in Swansea in October 1960. His playing here is suave but not insensitive, technically eloquent if somewhat impersonal. His agility and finesse offer phrasing in the central movement that is not without an appropriate pathos, and the richer strata of vibrato usage attest to his formidable technical mechanism. He tunes up before the finale, which Doráti balances perceptively.

There is some hiss and a few clicks in the Berlioz where the strings sound glassier than in the Sibelius, strangely. The wind intonation is also not above reproach though the cellos and violas, in particular, offer the most characterful string playing. The brass and percussion easily cut through such sonic limitations as there are – there is some crunching in the Scenes from the Country, for example. The performance overall has flair and strength, though, against which background orchestral imprecisions can be measured.

The Brangwyn Hall was the location for this concert and the disc preserves the event with fidelity. Dorati’s Minneapolis version of the Berlioz has already appeared in this series (see review), but the present CD usefully fills some discographic gaps.

Jonathan Woolf



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