TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 5 in e minor; Romeo and Juliet – Fantasy Ov.; SHULMAN: A Laurentian Ov. – NBC Sym./ Guido Cantelli – Pristine Audio

The talented Guido Cantelli appears in 1952 Carnegie Hall for some rousing Tchaikovsky and a rare Shulman performance.

TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 5 in e minor, Op. 64; Romeo and Juliet – Fantasy Ov.; SHULMAN: A Laurentian Ov. – NBC Sym./ Guido Cantelli – Pristine Audio PASC 457, 72:08 [avail. in various formats from www.pristineclassical.com] ****:

Andrew Rose revives two live concerts from Carnegie Hall featuring Italian virtuoso conductor Guido Cantelli (1920-1956) at the podium, in flamboyant display of his persuasive, interpretative powers. The 1888 Tchaikovsky Fifth Symphony did not glean much respect from the NBC’s official leader Arturo Toscanini, but Cantelli maintained a healthy, searching respect for the score. Cantelli remains attentive (1 March 1952) to the perpetual struggle of this “fate” symphony between darkness and light, the tensions between a nervous e minor and E Major in the first movement. No less lyrically tragic, the second movement Andante cantabile moves from b minor to periodic flights of D Major. What makes the first movement especially effective derives from Cantelli’s flexible sense of rhythm and inflected rubato, much in a Romantic style we might associate with Koussevitzky, but less flagrantly epic. The NBC woodwinds – the oboe, clarinet and flute – play with resonant articulation; and in the second movement, the French horn opening alerts us to a grand sympathetic statement and its subsequent development.

The A Major Valse movement enjoys a relatively carefree sensibility, and the colorful woodwind effects – for example, from the NBC bassoon – add to a progression that at first seems staid but then suddenly erupts with a quasi-martial swagger that once more invokes the cyclic “fate” motif. The last movement, opening Andante maestoso, permits a degree of “programmatic” response about savage Cossacks and the like, but the originally martial, dire element indeed achieves heroic status. Few interpretations can rival my preferred versions by Koussevitzky and Mravinsky, but Cantelli does get the score’s blood running fast. The NBC brass response attains a suave, punctuated clarity we recall from Cantelli’s reading of the Mussorgsky Pictures at an Exhibition. Tympanist Karl Glassman has been credited by several commentators for his energetic contribution. The silken, melodic string line gathers an irresistible momentum, played against increasingly frenzied brass syncopations, until after a full stop, the march in E Major affirms a victory over former spiritual desolation. At the last exclamation of the “fate” coda, the spontaneous applause enters less than a beat away.

The 1869 Romeo and Juliet Overture in b minor offers Cantelli another dramatic vehicle (2 February 1952) for his delectation. Here, Cantelli could embrace Toscanini as a possible model for his own performance, although in many respects the dynamism of the performance reverberates with the energy we associate with Koussevitzky and Stokowski. The Carnegie Hall acoustic proves helpful here, preserving the clear interchange of winds and then the clash of the tympani and cymbals. The love-scene sequence throbs with lyrical sincerity in an unbroken, arched line. The harp riffs certainly made Prokofiev aware of the possibilities for his own treatment of the Shakespeare tragedy. The passionate, combative Allegro – in another epic Tchaikovsky key of b-flat minor – comes off in spectacular homogeneously blended effect. Cantelli makes us realize, in the fateful funeral sequence, how much of the Berlioz harmony had entered into the Tchaikovsky harmonic syntax. The coda, unlike that by Stokowski, opts for the potent, dazzling sense of woe.

Alan Shulman (1915-2002) served as a cellist in the NBC Symphony and composed music for a variety of forms in diverse styles. He submitted his score of A Laurentian Overture to Guido Cantelli in 1951. This performance (1 March 1952) has appeared on the Bridge label. Dimitri Mitropoulos, too, championed Shulman’s work with the New York Philharmonic. The overture has a sprightly energy and a good sense for lyric expression. The sound of the piece conveys a rural sensibility, with moments of earthy counterpoint that favors a spirited brass and battery response. Shulman makes diverse colors that enjoy shifting rhythmic pulses, just the kind of mix that Cantelli would savor, given his own neo-Classical (via Ghedini) sensibility. The audience appreciates the effort.

—Gary Lemco

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