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CD and Download: Pristine Classical

Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No 6 in B minor, Pathétique Op. 74 [43:02]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Pavane pour une Infante Défunte
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
La Gazza Ladra
- Overture [8:50]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Guido Cantelli
rec. 22 (Rossini) 24, 28 & 30 (Tchaikovsky) 24 & 25 (Ravel) October 1952, Royal Festival Hall, London

Experience Classicsonline

These recordings offer proof - if proof were needed - of what a great conductor was the tragically short-lived Guido Cantelli (1920-1956). I’ve had these Tchaikovsky and Ravel recordings in my collection for many years on Testament CDs (SBT 1316 and SBT 1017 respectively).
I presume those Testament discs came from EMI masters, since they were issued under licence from EMI. The source of these Pristine transfers is rather more unusual and I think it’s worth reproducing Andrew Rose’s note on the subject. 

“The recordings here, all of which were generously lent by [Cantelli biographer] Keith Bennett for the purposes of this release, were drawn largely from a rare and unusually high quality source. During the 1950s, His Master's Voice recordings could be purchased on disc, normally both 78rpm shellac and, from 1952 onwards, on the quickly popular 33rpm vinyl format. However, they also ran a short series of "High Fidelity Tape Recording" issues, the "HTA" series, and at the time the highest-priced issue format the company offered. Each tape consisted of a 7-inch spool of 1/4 inch EMITAPE with two mono tracks, one on each side, running at 7.5 inches per second. A printed paper inlay contained the sleeve notes, and a small slip which referenced the Batch Number was hand-initialled by the tape operator, an inspector and a packer. Despite their undoubted high fidelity, especially when replayed as here on a modern, broadcast-standard Studer tape recorder, these tapes failed to attract much public attention at the time, quite possibly as a result of their exorbitant cost. It has to be said that they have been a pleasure to work from - offering the highest quality of any domestic medium I've encountered from the era.”
The resulting transfers are excellent though I have to say that I couldn’t detect a great deal of difference between the Pristine and Testament issues, except, perhaps - and this is a very minor matter - the tiniest suspicion of hiss around the 1:40 mark in the Ravel recording on the Pristine transfer. However, anyone wanting these recordings can invest in Andrew Rose’s transfers with complete confidence.
If you appreciate great conducting then you should want these recordings for, as recorded performances they are superb. Cantelli was a very fine conductor of Tchaikovsky and I admire his recording of the ‘Pathétique’ enormously. These recordings were all set down in conjunction with concerts that Cantelli gave with the Philharmonia and, experimentally, they were recorded in the same venue as the concerts, the recently-opened Royal Festival Hall. In a fascinating note about these recordings the aforementioned Keith Bennett points out that in his entire - and short - career Cantelli performed this symphony just six times; he then goes on to point the contrast with Karajan who alone made seven commercial recordings! Perhaps that’s why Cantelli’s recording, though undoubtedly scrupulously prepared, sounds so fresh and unalloyed. The big melancholy tune in the first movement is judged to perfection; it’s expressive but not overwrought. The interpretation is aided by some fabulous playing by the Philharmonia who, collectively, are on sovereign form - the woodwind principals are superb. The allegro vivo (8:44) is trenchant and full of drive yet it never tips over into hysteria as lesser interpretations can do. The 5/4 waltz is nicely turned and is gracefully played. The march is tightly controlled and the Philharmonia’s articulation is razor-sharp. In the finale Tchaikovsky’s marking, lamentoso, if not the music itself, invites the wearing of the heart on the sleeve. Cantelli, however, is dignified. He’s ardent too, however, and delivers a reading that is powerful without tipping over into sentimentality. This is, in fact, one of the finest recorded performances of the Pathétique that I know.
Apparently the recording of Ravel’s exquisite Pavane required many takes to satisfy Cantelli’s exacting standards. Not that you’d know that from the performance that we hear, which has a lovely, natural flow. The great Dennis Brain is the principal horn and the wonderful wind soloists match his excellent playing. The performance is beautifully judged and balanced and there’s great clarity. The string playing can only be described as silken. This is a wonderful recording.
For dessert, if you like, Cantelli serves up a keen, sprightly performance of the Rossini overture.
This is a most desirable collection of performances by a great conductor. Since the sound quality is fully worthy of the playing and interpretations, what more could one ask? 

John Quinn

Masterwork Index: Tchaikovsky Symphony 6 






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