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Emmanuel CHABRIER (1841-1894)
España [7:03]
George GERSHWIN (1898-1937)
Rhapsody in Blue [16:52]
George ENESCU (1881-1955)
Romanian Rhapsody in A, Op. 11 No. 1 [12:41]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Rapsodie Espagnole [16:11]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 [11:10]
Denis Matsuev (piano)
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Mariss Jansons
rec. live, Herkulessaal der Residenz, October 2015
BR KLASSIK 900146 [63:57]

This is quite a clever theme for a disc, and for a concert. After all, the very nature of a Rhapsody is that it’s freeform and, therefore, can mean whatever you want it to mean, and Jansons showcases that with some of the most famous Rhapsodies in the repertoire, having tremendous fun in the process.

Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsody is a particular treat. The orchestra revels in the colour it provides, and it’s conducted with just the right amount of swagger. Listening to this reminded me that Jansons also conducts the New Year’s Day concert in Vienna: the repertoire exercises similar muscles, and he is extremely good at it. Likewise, there is a lovely bounce to España, with the feeling that everybody is letting their hair down, with swing and sparkle to spare.

Denis Matsuev’s rather heavyweight approach to the keyboard makes this a big-boned Rhapsody in Blue, but Jansons keeps everything moving with admirable skill, and the best thing is hearing how much the wind players are enjoying themselves, be it the gurgling slur of the opening clarinet or the regularly sleazy brays from the brass, not to mention the unforgivable (but wonderful) trombone glissando towards the end.

The Bavarian strings do a great job of conjuring up the oppressive heat of a Spanish evening in the opening of Ravel’s Rapsodie Espagnole, so powerful that neither the Malagueña nor the Habañera ever seem quite able to escape its clutches. Only in the Feria does the music manage to revel in the celebratory swing of Ravel’s lilt, finding a new sense of energy and colour that seems to come straight from the street of a local fiesta.

There is a deliciously big, thick sound for the Liszt. The string section sounds augmented (though it probably isn't) and they sound as though they're loving every minute of the slow opening section. Things become simultaneously more manic and more swaggering with the switch into the major key and, despite occasional interludes of delicacy, all guns are blazing thrillingly towards the end. This is easily the best orchestral Hungarian Rhapsody I've heard in years.

There is plenty of audience applause, but it’s at the end of tracks and doesn’t interrupt the music. This disc is a bit of a guilty pleasure, for performers as well as listeners, but it made me reflect that, if it weren’t for orchestra-own-labels, it’s probably the sort of disc that would struggle to get made these days, so we should say Hooray and Olé that it exists!

Simon Thompson

Previous review: Michael Cookson



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