Guido Cantelli: The Complete Concert of His 19th Appearance with the NBC Symphony Orchestra = BRAHMS: Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90; ROUSSEL: Sinfonietta for String Orchestra, OP. 52; BERLIOZ: Hungarian March from The Damnation of Faust, Op. 24 – NBC Symphony Orchestra/Guido Cantelli
Pristine Audio PASC173, 51:33 (download or CD-R) [www.pristineclassical.com] ****:
The live broadcast of 15 December 1951 brings us the gifted Toscanini protégé, Guido Cantelli (1920-1956), in an energetic program of Brahms, Roussel, and Berlioz, each rendered with his customary balance of detail and explosive verve. Many would argue that the Brahms F Major presents the most challenges of any of the four, its F Minor/Major modality itself so strategically ambiguous as to defy a clear, spiritual focus. Cantelli appears to take the opening measures as an upbeat to the motto F-A-F signature, the composer’s idiosyncratic, dubiously “free-but-happy” musical persona. Cantelli plays the Allegro con bio for its bucolic melancholy, a bachelor’s version of Beethoven’s Pastoral as magnified by Thomas Hardy’s notion of Immanent Will.
Cantelli takes the repeat, which swells the symphonic mass with even more determinism, the violas and cellos sighing under the rather brisk attacks in the upper voices. The cumulative drive of this reading becomes quite mesmeric, especially the transition to the recap, which Cantelli accomplishes with a tragic urgency. The lovely expansive C Major Andante enjoys an “Indian summer” sensibility, a valedictory retrospect for more youthful sunsets. Again, a fiercely nostalgic grip overcomes the more pastoral elements, and we feel the crepuscular air of resignation. So, too, the C Minor Poco allegretto sings a fateful lament, especially as Cantelli maneuvers the string diminuendo to the French horn statement of the main theme. The NBC woodwinds achieve a pearly transparency in Carnegie Hall that Studio 8-H too often muffles. The F Minor/F Major Allegro moves rather inexorably, no dawdling to the meat of the drama, which more often than not imitates Beethoven’s C minor Symphony. The strings’ short jabbing strokes accentuate the swift contrapuntal pulse of the musical line–abetted by the NBC brass and tympani sections–unsentimental but resolute in all parts. Quite a devotional audience response as the last notes fade away: clearly they had been moved.
The Roussel Sinfonietta demonstrates this composer’s stringent classical line, a severe counterpoint in heavy rhythms. Barely ten minutes long, the piece casts a dark hue, though its modal lyricism–in the manner of plainchant–captures our ear for gothic beauty. The sonority Cantelli elicits from the NBC strings is not so far away from what we call affectionately “the Stokowski sound.” The Andante builds to fretful climax and explodes into the third movement Allegro, which at lasts moves away from D Minor or the Dorian mode into lighter reams. Still, an obsessive heavy tread follows us, a real sense of Nemesis. The last minute or so contests these opposing impulses, whose knotty metrics tug at us in different directions but phase Cantelli nary a whit.
Finally, the famed Rakoczy March of Berlioz, pungently rendered by Cantelli, but not with enough juice to supplant my favorite realization by Monteux. The flutes and high winds percolate with the plucked strings, and Cantelli milks the last pages for their national ferocity and Hungarian flavors. A perpetual crowd-pleaser, the snare drum and horn fanfares do the trick again on this Saturday in the company of this gifted young maestro.
— Gary Lemco