ELGAR: Cockaigne Overture; Symphony No. 1 in A-flat Major; ARNOLD: Beckus the Dandidpratt – Comedy Overture; TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 2; DEBUSSY: Jeux; BRITTEN: Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes – Bournemouth Sym./Constantin Silvestri – BBC Legends

by | Jul 2, 2006 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

ELGAR: Cockaigne Overture, Op. 40; Symphony No. 1 in A-flat Major, Op. 55; ARNOLD: Beckus the Dandidpratt – Comedy Overture, Op. 5; TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 17 “Little Russian”; DEBUSSY: Jeux; BRITTEN: Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes, Op. 33a; ENESCU: Roumanian Rhapsody No. 1 in A Major, Op. 11, No. 1 – Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/ Constantin Silvestri

BBC Legends BBCL 4182-2,  78:34; 78:57  (Distrib. Koch) ****:

During a conversation with the late conductor Sergiu Commissiona in Atlanta, I asked him about the virtues of his main teacher Constantin Silvestri (1913-1969). In a heartbeat, Commissiona replied, “Colors–the man had an amazing array of orchestral colors at his disposal–a great ear for the palette in any score.” In 1961 Silvestri became the permanent conductor of the relatively young Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, an ensemble he felt he could mold to his own standards. The BBC Legends set gives us a range of live concert performances 1963-1968 which indicates something of the conductor’s eclectic tastes, especially given that the Bucharest-born conductor found a kindred spirit in the music of Sir Edward Elgar, whose In the South Overture Silvestri inscribed memorably in 1967.

The program opens with a rousing 6 December 1966 version of Cockaigne, subtitled In London Town, a brisk Dickensian excursion through the spirited bustle of the world’s most cosmopolitan city. We sense in the rendition of the A-flat Symphony (25 July 1968) the evolution of a grand, Romantic form, a gesture to Edwardian noblesse, even as the music emerges from the Winter Gardens, Bournemouth.  The first movement, of Mahlerian proportions, is difficult to pull together into a cohesive, emotional unity. The Scherzo is decidedly less ponderous and more colorful, although bits of In the South Overture permeate the hasty motions. The second subject, hushed strings and winds, is delicate then martially whimsical in Felix Mendelssohn or Arthur Sullivan tones. Brahms was always a huge influence on the Elgar sound, so the Adagio, with its bucolic winds, strings, and harp, may evoke a Germanic allusion. I find a hint of Bruckner here. Silvestri plays the Lento–Allegro for its burly nostalgia, which rather meanders. Malcolm Arnold’s feisty Beckus the Dandipratt (23 February 1963), which was an Eduard van Beinum favorite as well, comes off as Britain’s answer to Jacques Ibert. Peppy and urbane, the music moves lithely and effectively, a romp close in spirit to Till Eulenspiegel.

Tchaikovsky’s C Minor Symphony has had its worthy adherents, from Eugene Goossens to Carlo Maria Giulini. Silvestri’s performance (12 November 1966) adds a bit of gravity to the proceedings, making of the Andantino marziale a soulful march through autumn weather. Excellent work from the Bournemouth flute section. Silvestri pushes the Scherzo hard, anticipating some of the more intense moments in The Nutcracker. The heraldry that opens the Finale could easily be construed as Moussorgsky or imperious Glinka. The Finale receives a try at noble grandeur, even if some of the sentimental melos won’t support the heroic impulse. A touch of the Orient and a mad surge to the coda attests to the orchestral bravura of Silvestri’s ensemble, which really could make second-rate music sound absolutely fresh and significant.

The two “modern” works, Debussy’s Jeux (10 November 1965) and excerpts from Britten’s Peter Grimes (26 November 1966) each has a powerful realization by Silvestri. Jeux is Debussy’s strange allegory of amorous tennis players in the form of a tempo-shifting rondo. This performance rivals my old standby from Victor de Sabata. Many of the colors derive from Dukas. Lush coloration and rhythmic nicety convince us the Bournemouth Symphony could do it all. Another Beinum staple, scenes from Peter Grimes, stirs us with intensely haunted visions of the sea, perhaps the most fiery Dawn in my recollection.  The carillon opening Sunday Morning quakes with energy; superb wind and brass choirs. The dirge-like, passionate droplets of Moonlight lead us to the Storm sequence, an elemental, furious confrontation in strings, brass, and tympani.

Finally, for echt Roumanian fare, we have the 22 November 1966 Enescu Rhapsody from Royal Festival Hall. The lassu opening has colors spilling into each other lavishly, a surfeit of string and harp sound that produces a rich, creamy broth waiting to explode. The viola takes us into a swirling mass of sound whose give-and-take yields to the gypsy impulse of flute, pizzicato strings, bassoon, horn, trumpet, snare drum, all become wild dervishes. That the musical madness infects the audience is evident in the roar that ensues.

— Gary Lemco

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