Guido Cantelli conducts TCHAIKOVSKY: Romeo & Juliet Ov.; Sym. No. 5 – Pristine

by | Dec 13, 2011 | Classical Reissue Reviews

TCHAIKOVSKY: Romeo and Juliet–Fantasy Overture; Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Op. 64 – Philharmonia Orchestra of London (Romeo)/ Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala, Milano/ Guido Cantelli – Pristine Audio PASC 316, 62:37 [avail. in various formats from] ****:
The tragically brief career of Italian maestro Guido Cantelli (1920-1956) has the consolation of the powerful recordings he bequeathed us, including the two performances of Tchaikovsky herein revivified by restoration master Mark Obert-Thorn. Each of these London-based inscriptions appeared both on 78 rpm and LP formats; but on this CD the seamless sound rarely indicates anything like their “interrupted” source. The Romeo and Juliet (13 October 1951) enjoys the expert discipline of the Philharmonia Orchestra, which could boast French horn Dennis Brain among its luminaries. The La Scala Orchestra performance of the Fifth Symphony (23, 26 September 1950) drives a “fateful” and self-absorbed work forward with minimal histrionics but rather a noble and often heroically lyrical series of gestures to excellent effect.
The Romeo and Juliet Overture in B Minor, composed at the urging of Balakirev to set Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy as a symphonic poem in sonata-form, provides an excellent vehicle for Cantelli and his London forces. The conception remains tight and taut, the various moods of the drama, the animosity of the feuding families, and the ardent passion of the doomed lovers conveyed with sweep and inexorable doom. The relative speed of the reading does not detract from the urgency of the various sentiments, and Cantelli utilizes, unlike Stokowski, the aggressive ending to the score. Like his master-mentor Toscanini, Cantelli effects elegant transitions within the spiraling drama itself.
Toscanini had little respect for the Fifth Symphony of Tchaikovsky, but Cantelli championed the work, and we have readings from New York, London, and Boston. I find Cantelli’s approach to the first movement somewhat ambivalent, in that he nurtures a lofty sonority and elegant resolve to the “fate motto,” but he has a tendency to render glib phrases that Koussevitzky and Mravinsky would milk to the fullest. Still, the long line that Cantelli propels by its own inertia and élan vital quite compels our attention, as does the coda. The La Scala trumpet work proves engrossing and committed. The effect distills a neo-Classical design on an ultra-Romantic conception, especially in the Valse, taken at the directed tempo, which slows down the “accepted” versions. Happily, Cantelli does not take the devastating cut in the finale as Mengelberg and Sargent do, which ruins their otherwise imposing accounts. The true heart of the performance clearly lies in Cantelli’s soaring reading of the Andante cantabile, truly a heartfelt paean to personal melancholy that practices self-overcoming. The cello line rarely receives the credit it deserves for sheer beauty of articulation and tonal warmth. Here, resplendent in their collaboration with the La Scala winds, brass, and tympani, the enduring song attains a firm self-assurance without whimpering or false sentimentality. Sound restoration in both works warrants repeated listening for the authenticity and vivid expressivity rescued from 60-year-old originals belying their age at every bar.
—Gary Lemco

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