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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Egmont Overture Op.84 [8.50]
Zoltán KODÁLY (1882-1967)
Dances of Galánta [15.11]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No.1 in C minor Op.68 [42.38]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Rákóczi March (The Damnation of Faust) [4.32]
Hungarian State Symphony Orchestra/János Ferencsik
rec. live Royal Festival Hall, London, 26 February 1966
ORCHESTRAL CONCERT CDs CD5/2009 [71.11]

This disc in the series of live recordings from the Royal Festival Hall is almost the entire concert. Going on the length I would imagine the concerto is missing, possibly because the soloist did not give permission for the recording to be released. Instead we do have the encore. Like all the other discs from OCCD this is best judged as if one were an audience member on the night. Was it a good concert? Did you enjoy it? The answer to both those questions is "yes". From a record collectors point-of-view, this sequence of works could be reproduced at home drawing on separate sources for each piece. The questions then are different, and inevitably comparative. Is this as enjoyable as the other Egmont Overture recordings I own? Is the Brahms Symphony as impressive as, probably, Karajan or Klemperer? Does this recording sound as convincing as the best Decca sound of the period? And so on. The responses to those questions are not so positive. But, a big but, does one have to listen out for the 'best performance' all the time? I think not. As I have noted repeatedly in reviewing this series, what they offer is live concerts with all the atmosphere that entails. This is quite a different beast to a studio recording. Even back in the 60s studio recordings involved many takes and many edits so that the end result was effectively a patchwork.

Let me take the main work as an example, the Brahms. Ferencsik takes the work at a slightly faster pace than my library recordings, which I view as a benefit in this most trenchant of Brahms's four symphonic masterpieces. The orchestral recording is plenty clear enough to hear all the sections revving up the mighty Brahmsian engine and playing as if this music matters, not to gain technical perfection. Their sound is distinctive, the oboes have a reedy quality reminiscent of the Viennese oboe sound; the horns have a slight vibrato, a regular characteristic of Eastern European orchestras before the modern era; the timpanist cuts through the texture in the finale to exciting effect. It is often said that symphonies are a goal-led structure and Ferencsik has a clear aim so that when the coda ends the audience can only burst into applause. Perhaps I have heard more exciting Brahms Ones but that does not alter the feeling of satisfaction at reaching the goal here. None of these performances is "the best" but none can be described as less than good and I would love to have been there.

I always comment on the OCCD recording quality as being clear and alive in these simple and immediate twin-microphone recordings. Here the violins have a slightly acidic edge when at forte and above but the stereo picture is believable. The orchestra acquit themselves well. The audience obviously liked it at the time and a burst of enthusiastic applause follows each work to prove that. A short period of coughing helps the Beethoven get started as well. Once again Geoffrey Terry has achieved his aim to preserve live music making "for the record", as one might say. Without these efforts a lot of excellent performances would be only memories.

Dave Billinge

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf





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