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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Violin Concerto in D, Op. 35 (1878) [34:08]
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Oberon overture (1826) [8:15]
Antonin DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Carnival Overture (1891) [8:50]
Henryk Szeryng (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra/Antal Doráti
rec. 1959/62

This disc has been issued by the Antal Doráti Centenary Society, whose website reveals the enormous range of recordings currently offered, many of which are otherwise unavailable. Younger collectors, in particular, are encouraged to explore the work of this outstanding conductor. Anyone who was lucky enough to hear him live – he died in 1988 – will need little encouragement.

Sadly, production values on this particular disc are unsatisfactory. Recording dates appear only on the CD label and are imprecise. The only indication as to where the recordings took place is a grainy photograph of Watford Town Hall on the back of the box. The booklet carries nothing more than a few quotes from reviews and information about other releases. Confusingly, it gives the date of publication as 2017, whereas the disc itself has 2012. It also leads the listener to imagine that these are mono recordings, whereas they are clearly stereo. What little printed material there is appears to have been produced on a computer, as does the disc itself.

The recorded sound is extremely fine for its time, rich and sonorous, especially in the Tchaikovsky, with considerable presence and an exemplary, clearly defined bass line. What a pity, then, that the production is sub-standard here too. The recordings are taken from LPs, with mostly minimal surface noise. However, there is no fade-in at the beginning of each track, nor fade-out at the end. Indeed, you can almost convince yourself that you hear the stylus engaging with the groove. Absurdly, the finale of the Tchaikovsky is followed by a fourth track of four seconds that contains the first note of the concerto, just in case you missed it the first time. Likewise, the Dvořák is followed by another four-second track, though silent this time, except for the background hiss. Disingenuously, the booklet quotes from an Amazon review of the Tchaikovsky, a glowing and not unmerited opinion, but one which relates to a later recoupling of the work where these problems were probably resolved.

The performances themselves are very fine indeed. You might wish that Szeryng had treated us to a little more quiet playing when the score demands it, but you’re bound to appreciate the extreme beauty and richness of tone. The technical command of the playing, of course, is never in doubt. The slow movement is heartfelt and moving, and in the finale the violinist deliberately adopts a less refined sound, bringing a strong and wholly appropriate folk-like feeling to the work. Doráti was an exceptional accompanist, and his vision of the work is totally at one with that of the soloist. The London Symphony Orchestra’s playing is superb, as it also is in the lively and totally idiomatic performances of the two overtures.

Direct from the Society, and choosing the no jewel case option, this is not an expensive purchase. These are three thoroughly recommendable performances that will bring great pleasure, and not only to those already converted to the Doráti cause. The presentation is slipshod, however.

William Hedley

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