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Neeme Järvi: A Lifetime on Chandos
CHANDOS CHAN20088 [25 CDs: 30 hours]

A number of years ago there was a Järvi-Chandos highlights release, a 2-CD sampler sketching the long-established relationship between conductor and record label (CHAN241-44). Now comes a 25-CD box set that reissues some of their most admired collaborations and others that are very much worthy of preservation in this way. It adds up to a powerful endorsement of A & R acumen, executant excellence, famous recording quality, and a reminder too of attractive booklet art.

At least half of these releases have been reviewed, often multiply, on this site over the years and further reading of the links may refresh memories as to the qualities of individual performances. I’ve listened to most of the discs in their entirety but have to admit to stepping lightly-and-politely over one or two where the overall standard was not quite as high. And to keep within the bounds of readability I’ll track the box disc-by-disc but in strictly précis form.

Things start on a high with Prokofiev’s Sixth Symphony, a sumptuous reading irradiated by a powerful sense of line. Is the orchestra a bit bass-shy? Possibly, but it hardly limits admiration and serves notice that the conductor’s cycle is still one of the most recommendable. The Scottish National features only once on the Stravinsky disc, playing the suite from Histoire du Soldat (elsewhere they recorded the whole thing). The Concertgebouw takes on Jeu de Cartes and Orpheus and play with staggering refinement. Loving and leisurely, I can live without this reading of Dvořák’s New World but there’s a most effective if not always narratively compelling Alpine Symphony. Felicity Lott sings four songs including Morgen!

Rachmaninoff’s Third Symphony is communicative and strong though once again the recording is a little easy on the bass, which is a surprise as the LSO is on board. Across town the Philharmonia gets through a less rewarding Symphonic Dances. Shostakovich 10 is one the unquestioned peaks of this box; gripping from the word go, superbly paced, and coupled with the Ballet Suite No.4. Brahms’ complete Hungarian Dances occupy disc seven courtesy of the LSO. Walter Weller did this with more style and there’s more paprika on Naxos’ recording with the underrated István Bogár. The all-Weber overture disc is with the Philharmonia with whom – if the recordings are to be believed – Järvi enjoyed only a so-so relationship, as here. He steps boldly into the repertory of Dorati and Fricsay with his Kodály triptych but is given the unequivocal support of Solti’s supercharged Chicago Symphony. We stay in America for a Barber disc that includes the symphonies – No.1 is especially resplendent and the recording is absolutely brilliant – and a powerfully moving Adagio for strings.

Disc 11 is devoted to Tchaikovsky’s incidental music to The Snow Maiden, very well sung and very lyrically played by the Detroit Symphony once again. There’s also a very well recorded and played Má Vlast, with just a few exaggerated gestures that don’t detract much from the scrupulously high standards the conductor achieved with the Detroit orchestra. If you want to get through The Ring in an hour Henk de Vlieger’s 1991 arrangement is just your thing and there’s still room for the Siegfried Idyll. Volume 1 of the very welcome Halvorsen edition is here in which you’ll find the First Symphony. There’s a good balance of familiar and unfamiliar in the boldly played Saint-Saëns selection: it’s especially fine to hear the overture to Spartacus, for instance, and the charming barcarolle Une nuit à Lisbonne. The Suppé selection also has one or two less-often-encountered things and the readings are very competent though perhaps a bit score-bound; a dose of Beechamesque swagger was needed. A raft of Parry premieres comes in disc 17, where the Te Deum, The Birds of Aristophanes and the Magnificat are the most important works. The Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra is represented in the first volume of the Kurt Atterberg edition – Järvi is nothing if not exploratory in his complete editions. The Dollar Symphony is here – less energized but in obviously infinitely superior sound to those old wizards, Toscanini and Beecham, but possibly less persuasive than Ari Rasilainen overall.

I don’t think the Chabrier disc is a standout; dutiful rather than stylish. I enjoyed the Raff with the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande when I first reviewed it. The Fifth Symphony Lenore is the centrepiece and as quite often with the conductor contention focuses on his tempi. I like Järvi’s vicious nightmare ride and the other pieces are just as good, if not quite as startling. The only composer who receives two discs is Tchaikovsky and rightly so as The Nutcracker, recorded in Bergen, is a conspicuous success. He recorded the music of the Slovak Eugen Suchoň with his Estonian National Symphony forces in 2013-14, two decades after the composer’s death. The three selected pictures reflect Suchoň’s enthusiasm for suite form and for pictorial depiction and are beautifully played if, for me, a bit breathlessly so; a case of Järvi’s penchant for very slow or very fast tempi not quite working. You don’t hear enough Fučik these days but courtesy of the Royal Scottish National one can hear 22 pieces and not just you-know-what. This is a fun disc, full of flair, colour and strutting braggadocio from the Czech Lands’ March King. A disc of Ibert is welcome even if interpretatively things are occasionally a bit hit and miss before the final disc unleashes a host of Viennese Strauss maestri for ‘Strauss in St Petersburg’ an orgy of quadrilles, polkas, march fantasies and waltzes.

Järvi has been recording for Chandos for almost 40 years. These representative discs, culled from his vast discography, with most of the important orchestras with which he has recorded, form a sturdy and time-defying cornerstone. The 122-page booklet carries full discographic information and there are brief essays from James Jolly, Editor in Chief of Gramophone, a personal tribute from Järvi’s son, Paavo, from Ralph Couzens and other luminaries, along with a number of photographs.

Jonathan Woolf

MusicWeb International reviews
Atterberg ~ Chabrier ~ Fučik ~ Halvorsen ~ Ibert ~ Parry ~ Raff ~ Saint-Saëns ~ J Strauss ~ Suchon ~ Suppé ~ Tchaikovsky ~ Wagner
Prokofiev: Symphony No. 6 in E flat minor, Op. 111
Waltz Suite, Op. 110
Scottish National Orchestra
Stravinsky: Jeu de cartes
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
L'Histoire du Soldat: Concert Suite
Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Dvořák: Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95 'From the New World'
My Home Overture, Op. 62
Scottish National Orchestra
Strauss: Eine Alpensinfonie, Op. 64
Vier letzte Lieder
Felicity Lott (soprano)
Scottish National Orchestra
Rachmaninov: Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 44
London Symphony Orchestra
Symphonic Dances, Op. 45
Philharmonia Orchestra
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 10 in E minor, Op. 93
Ballet Suite No. 4 (1953)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Brahms: Hungarian Dances, WoO 1 Nos. 1-21
London Symphony Orchestra
Weber: Peter Schmoll, Overture J8 (Op. 8)
Turandot Overture and March J75
Silvana, Overture J87
Abu Hassan Overture
Der Gerrscher der Geister Overture (Ruler of the Spirits Overture)
Jubel-Ouvertüre, J245 (Op. 59)
Der Freischütz Overture
Preciosa, Overture J279 (Op. 78)
Euryanthe Overture
Oberon Overture
Philharmonia Orchestra
Kodály: Dances of Galanta
Háry János Suite
Variations on a Hungarian Folksong 'The Peacock'
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Barber: Symphony No. 1, Op. 9
Symphony No. 2, Op. 19
Overture to The School for Scandal, Op. 5
Adagio for Strings, Op. 11
Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Tchaikovsky: The Snow Maiden, Op. 12
Irina Mishura-Lekhtman (mezzo): Vladimir Grishko (tenor)
University Musical Society Choral Union
Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Smetana: Má Vlast
Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Wagner: The Ring - an orchestral adventure
Siegfried Idyll
Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Halvorsen: Bojarernes Indtogsmarsj (Entry of the Boyars)
Andante religioso
Mascarade Suite
La Mélancolie
Symphony No. 1
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
Saint-Saëns: Bacchanale from Samson et Dalila
Le Rouet d'Omphale, Op. 31
Phaéton, Op. 39
Danse macabre, Op. 40
La jeunesse d'Hercule, Op. 50
Marche Militaire Francaise
Overture to the opera ‘La Princesse jaune', Op. 30
Une nuit A Lisbonne, Op. 63
Spartacus. Overture for orchestra
Marche du couronnement, Op. 117
Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Suppe: Leichte Kavallerie Overture
Boccaccio Overture
Boccaccio: March
Pique Dame Overture
Humorous Variations
Dichter und Bauer Overture
Fatinitza Overture
Das Modell Overture
Uber Berg, über Tal
Isabella Overture
Die schöne Galathée Overture
Donna Juanita Overture
Ein Morgen, ein Mittag, ein Abend in Wien Overture
Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Parry: Te Deum (Coronation)
Suite from ‘The Birds’ (Aristophanes)
The Glories of Our Blood and State
BBC National Orchestra of Wales, BBC National Chorus of Wales
Atterberg: Symphony No. 6 in C major, Op. 31 'Dollar Symphony'
En värmlandsrapsodi (A Värmland Rhapsody) Op. 36
Suite No. 3, Op. 19 No. 1 for violin, viola and string orchestra
Symphony No. 4 in G minor, Op. 14 'Sinfonia piccola'
Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
Chabrier: Joyeuse Marche
Gwendoline Overture
Bourrée Fantasque
Suite Pastorale
L'Etoile: Overture
L'Étoile: Two Entre’actes
Fete polonaise (from Le Roi Malgré Lui)
Danse Slave
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande
Raff: Dame Kobold Overture
Abends (Rhapsodie)
König Alfred: Overture
Dornroschen, WoO 19: Prelude
Die Eifersüchtigen: Overture
Symphony No. 5 in E major, Op. 177 'Lenore'
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande
Neeme Järvi
Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker, Op. 71
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
Neeme Järvi
Suchon: Metamorphosis
Eesti Riiklik Sümfooniaorkester
Baladická suita, Op. 9
Symfonietta rustica
Eesti Riiklik Sümfooniaorkester
Fucik: Marinarella: Overture
Uncle Teddy, Op. 239
Die lustigen Dorfschmiede, Op. 218
Der alte Brummbar, Op. 210
Entry of the Gladiators
Florentiner Marsch
Hercegovac, Op. 235
Die Regimentskinder
Ballettratten, Op. 226
The Mississippi River, Op. 160 (161)
Under the Admirals Flag, Op. 82
Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Ibert: Escales
Sarabande pour Dulcinée
Ouverture de fete
Hommage a Mozart
Paris, Suite Symphonique pour orchestre
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande
Neeme Järvi
Strauss, Johann, II: Newa-Polka Francaise, Op. 288
Persischer Marsch, Op. 289
Russischer Marsch, Op. 426
Grossfurstin Alexandra, Op. 181
Olga-Polka, Op. 196
Alexandrine-Polka francaise, Op. 198
Abschied von St. Petersburg, Walzer, Op. 210
Bauern-Polka, Op. 276
Pizzicato Polka
Grossfursten-Marsch, Op. 107
Smirnitskaya: Erste Liebe, Op. 14
Vergnügungszug, Op. 281
Wein, Weib und Gesang, Op. 333
Kronungs-Marsch, Op. 183
Hofball-Quadrille, Op. 116
An der Wolga - Polka mazurka, Op. 425
St. Petersburg (Quadrille on Russian Themes), Op. 255
Auf zum Tanze! Polka schnell, Op. 436
Russischer Marsch-Fantasie, Op. 353
Alexander, Op. 33
Olga Zaitseva (soprano)
Estonian National Symphony Orchestra
Neeme Järvi



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