Evgeny Svetlanov = BRAHMS: Symphony No. 3 in F Major; DEBUSSY: La Mer; CHAUSSON: Poeme de l’amour et de la mer; “La Mort de l’amour – Le Temps des lilas” – Janet Baker, mezzo-sop./ London Sym. Orch. – ICA Classics

Evgeny Svetlanov = BRAHMS: Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90; DEBUSSY: La Mer; CHAUSSON: Poeme de l’amour et de la mer, Op. 19; “La Mort de l’amour – Le Temps des lilas” – Janet Baker, mezzo-soprano/ London Sym. Orch./ Evgeny Svetlanov – ICA Classics ICAC 5123, 72:41 [Distr. by Naxos] (2/3/14) ****:

Evgeny Svetlanov (1927-2002) appeared at the Royal Festival Hall, London for his 17 April 1975 concert, touting singularly non-Russian musical fare. Svetlanov found the music of Brahms much to his taste, despite the historic aversion to this composer from celebrated figures like Tchaikovsky, Wolf, and Britten.  Always robust and vigorous in his realizations, Svetlanov addresses the 1883 F Major Symphony with his patented gusto and attention to color details. Even without having taken the repeat in the opening Allegro con brio, Svetlanov generates both gripping energy and luxurious girth in his broad tempos and relaxed expressivity in the development section.  With principals Jack Brymer on clarinet and Barry Tuckwell on French horn, we find their respective entries lyrical and rounded, confident and sonorous.

Brahms drew the interior movements for the Third Symphony from sketches he had made for incidental music for Goethe’s Faust, a commission unfulfilled because of the respect Brahms had for his mentor Schumann’s efforts in this project. Brymer’s affecting clarinet, surrounded by warm violas, ensure the affectionate lyricism of the Andante, which rises to an autumnal song of sweet power in the LSO strings. By the end of the second movement, we have become attuned to Svetlanov’s idiosyncratic rubato, his studied hesitatons and adjustments of the pulse as he projects the motifs with luminous transparency. Even more pronounced in metric subtlety, the Poco allegretto – its motif taken from the second movement of Schumann’s Fourth Symphony – becomes a highly personal, melancholy plaint of singular, even mysterious, persuasion. Once more, the Brymer and Tuckwell contributions are well forward in the aural mix. The Allegro finale permits the tempestuous side of Svetlanov’s temperament full reign. The explosive nature of the music finds Beethoven influences as well as Schumann allusions to sweep it to its lyrical, rather dissolved treatment of the opening motif in the first movement. Musicologist Donald Tovey called the coda “the romantic quiet glow that we have now learned to regard as its destined result.”

Svetlanov felt an affinity for Debussy’s 1905 La Mer, and he committed its three symphonic sketches to record with the Philharmonia Orchestra in 1992, with tempos so broad that they rival Celibidache’s boa-constrictor proportions. The performance Svetlanov renders here does not move so quickly as, say, that of Cantelli, but it possesses broad power and deft clarity of line. Tension and exotic colors waft their way through the Dawn to Midday, the trumpet work of Howard Snell bright and elastic. The erotic interplay of strings, winds, brass and harp become dazzlingly virtuosic, with Svetlanov’s rather gloating in his mastery of graded dynamics. Wonderful bustle opens Jeux de vagues, the nervous tug and release of the waves punctuated by fabulous interplay in the winds, harp, and shimmering strings, topped by the trumpet. The sensuous wash of the seascape music quite overpowers us, the effect almost as olfactory as it is aurally convincing. Ominous and sounded from deep water, the Dialogue du vent et de la mer might at first pass as an etude for brass, battery and strings. Svetlanov winds up his magic charm with ferocious momentum, and this reading can stand by those of Munch, Mitropoulos, and Desormiere with easy confidence. Expressive and demonic, the final pages, to quote commentator David Nice, become “a Dionysian orgy out of the final charge to the stampeding finish.” And the audience goes quite mad.

The bonus consists of Janet Baker’s singing the final song from Chausson’s Poème de l’amour et de la mer: ‘La Mort de l’amour – Le Temps des lilas.’ This comes from the same concert and has been previously issued on BBC Legends (BBCL 4077-2). In a review of this performance, The Times wrote of Janet Baker’s ‘lovely tone throughout a wide range and an equally beautiful shapeliness and continuity of line.’ Svetlanov was praised for achieving a refined orchestral blend and balance. The performance was said to have held ‘a large audience spellbound.’

—Gary Lemco

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