Neeme Järvi's music-making first swam into my field of vision and hearing
when he was a 'stable' conductor for BIS. With that superbly adventurous
Swedish firm he recorded extensively. This took in symphonic cycles of Martinu,
Sibelius and Eduard Tubin. Before I knew what was happening he had decamped
to Scotland and was signed up by Chandos and the then Scottish National
Orchestra. Later it gained its 'Royal' prefix. Järvi's sojourn in Scotland
overlapped with my move to a job on a Scottish island and I gradually became
conscious of some outstanding music-making in Glasgow (the home of the RSNO)
not least from Michael Tumelty's generally approving reviews in the Glasgow
Herald. Sadly I did not hear Järvi in concert. With Chandos he recorded
extensively including a fine cycle of Prokofiev symphonies of which number
6 was amongst the first CDs I bought in 1986 after I took the plunge and
bought a CD player (the ill-fated Philips CD101 which never worked properly
and which Philips eventually replaced with my current player which has worked
superbly ever since).
Järvi had made a name for himself with Melodiya in the 1960s and 1970s
and his Brahms cycle is available on BMG-Melodiya. Such a pity that his Melodiya
recording of Tubin's Symphony No. 6 has, to date, not made it to silver disc.
This leads us neatly to the present compilation from the Chandos back catalogue.
Both these symphonies are rather longwinded but they have their dramatic
and poetic moments and for these they are worth the exploration. I rather
like the six movement first symphony but Järvi did not record that with
the RSNO (nor with anyone else as far as I am aware).
The Second Symphony is an episodic piece and some of the episodes are certainly
impressive. I recall hearing it first on an early LP recording conducted
by Jerzy Semkow. It seemed exotic then and it is now as well; however exoticism
is not enough. The symphony's swaying enchantments and heartfelt brass calls
are occasionally sub-Tchaikovskian but the whole thing goes on for far to
long and attention often meanders. For freshness of invention you will not
beat the early piano concerto. This symphony is not up to that standard.
Järvi is a master colourist and this comes across eloquently courtesy
of the Chandos-RSNO team.
The Poem of Ecstasy is simply the best performance I have heard: symphonic
and poetic. This is high praise from me as I am normally very warmly disposed
towards native Russian performances. It has that primeval urgency that I
would expect from the work and which is necessary to galvanise it into
communicative life. Just listen to the gloriously paced trumpet work of Adolph
Herseth of the Chicago SO. Ecstatic and strange indeed! I often caught myself
thinking about the influence this work might have had on Charles Tomlinson
Griffes in his tone poem The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan.
The third symphony is another melodramatic essay with Scriabin in grandiloquent
creative mode sporting an orchestra of eight horns, five trumpets, two harps,
four flutes and so on. The first movement runs to almost 25 minutes when
you combine the opening lento with the Luttes - Allegro. This
does not match up to the Kondrashin concert performance on Etcetera but is
much better recorded. The Voluptes (central lento) movement is a
languorous and I cannot help thinking that Järvi relaxes the pace just
a bit too much and loses touch with the forward pulse. In the final Jeu
Divin Järvi and Scriabin shake off the drowsy pleasures of the middle
movement and Järvi is soon driving all before him. The headlong flight
in joy reminded me of that allegedly 'lesser' composer, Glazunov. The brass
are in full-throated glory at 3:33 and not for the last time! They crown
The coupling for the Third symphony is the initially rather striking
Reverie usually written off as inconsequential but here registering
To summarise: two creditable performances of the symphonies with the third
being the superior. The Poem of Ecstasy is brilliantly done here and
although I have not heard the Ashkenazy performance (Decca) it will have
to be great indeed to outpoint this recording. Then bear in mind that the
whole package gives you two discs for the price of one and you know that
the curious and the adventurous have little to lose and much to gain.