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Jonathan Woolf
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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola in E flat major, K364 (1779) [30:52]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Don Juan, Op. 20 (1888) [17:35]
Hugh Maguire (violin)
Simon Streatfeild (viola)
London Symphony Orchestra/Antal Doráti
rec. live, 11 October 1960 (Strauss), 12 October 1960 (Mozart), Brangwyn Hall, Swansea, UK

The Swansea Festival was inaugurated just after the end of the Second World War so was in its thirteenth year in 1960 when the LSO was in residence for a week with its conductor, Antal Doráti. A number of BBC broadcasts of the festival have survived and this example reflects two facets of a touring orchestra’s armoury; its soloists and its corporate strength in romantic repertoire.

The first is exemplified in that most high spirited and congenial of double concertos, Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante. By common consent Hugh Maguire was one of the most liked and respected of British orchestral leaders of his time, a technician of high ability with a leader’s innate rhythmic nous, who later led the Allegri Quartet and was a prominent member of the Melos Ensemble. The principal viola of the orchestra was Simon Streatfeild, along with Maguire a founding member of The Academy of St Martin in the Fields, later a conductor in Canada, and who died in 2019. Both added youthful esprit to the LSO when they joined in the 1950s, a somewhat troubled period for the orchestra.

Their strengths in chamber music inform the performance of K364. Maguire had a naturally fast vibrato and is silvery in the upper strings and rich in the lower – sometimes sounding almost viola like, in fact. Streatfeild is an able colleague, warm-toned but not opulent, a fine student of Frederick Riddle in his articulation and call-and-response manoeuvering with Maguire. This is a trim, sympathetic performance with a couple of negligible and passing blemishes in the runs. The first movement cadenza is well taken, and the slow movement develops at a persuasive tempo, phrasally warm and dynamics and balance well worked out. There are a few clicks on the sound and some restive audience noises. Some tuning up at the start of the finale means that the movement actually takes nearer to 6:30 than the slightly sluggish 7:30 suggested by the track timing. The finale is buoyant, the winds are audible and play well. There is appreciative applause.

Prefacing the music there is a brief spoken introduction from a tremendously well-spoken woman announcer and quite a bit of tuning up and expectant waiting for the soloists and conductor to arrive as well as orchestral rearrangement, all of which bulks up the timing of the first movement in the track listing to 15:36; knock off two minutes and you get the realistic timing of this movement.

Doráti never recorded this work commercially so we are reliant on the good folk at the Antal Doráti Centenary Society to fill this kind of repertoire gap.

The previous day he and the LSO had given Don Juan in a programme that also included Steven Staryk, erstwhile leader of Beecham’s RPO and newly appointed to the same position at the Concertgebouw, as soloist in Sibelius’ Violin Concerto (also preserved by this society) and Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique.

This time there is a studio recording of the work, but this ancillary example is useful to have. It’s a vibrant, big-boned reading, longer on show than subtlety perhaps but all the orchestral choirs play well for Dorati and individual contributions are tonally rich and eloquent. There are some thumps at around 16:30. Once again because of the announcements, by a different (male) announcer, the track timing gives a slightly misleading impression of the tempo. Shave two minutes off the 19:32 timing and you get to the music’s timing.

This is a good example of generally well-preserved broadcast tapes serving a repertoire-expanding function for an important musician.

Jonathan Woolf
Previous review: Stephen Greenbank

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