At his best, a debonair colorist with charismatic panache, Rumanian conductor Constantin Silvestri (1913-1969) made a point of raising the level of technical execution of the Bournemouth Symphony, which had been long dismissed as a provincial ensemble. The present set collates six performance dates between 1965 and 1967, each characterized by Silvestri’s often stunning energy and penchant for intense sensual detail. The opening Walton Partita (7 May 1965), a piece originally conceived in 1958 for George Szell’s virtuoso Cleveland Orchestra, makes a dazzling impression, with its hasty trumpet riffs and bumptious impetuosity.
From the same session comes an archly poised La Mer, creamy and indulgent of the horns, strings, and harp in the manner of Celibidache. Some elegant horn work in the Jeux de vagues section of Debussy’s seascape, and we can feel the salt air whipping through the sudden cascades of water. A palpably ominous series of bass grumblings takes us into the Dialogue du vent et de la mer, the ground swell rising up from the depths and hurtling to the sky. Pristine ensemble from the woodwinds as well, with all sorts of intricate agogics at play. While the Walton and Debussy derive from the studio, they still manage to get our pulse racing.
The Rachmaninov Third Symphony (1 December 1967) has never caught the public imagination with any of the noble grandeur of the E Minor Symphony, it has “belonged” to conductors Boult and Stokowski as virtuoso vehicles. The music, like most of Rachmaninov, possesses sincerity and nostalgia in spades. The big melody in the first movement reminds me of the folksong Shenandoah. Occasionally, we feel the sound a mite compressed for the scope Silvestri wants for this music. A lyric transparency he does elicit, however, even a yearning for the transcendent. The Adagio ma non troppo begins with homage to Tchaikovsky and then violin and harp allude to Scheherazade. The Allegro vivace section, which provides the attached scherzo, exerts plenty of motion while maintaining a mezzo-forte, only the music lacks inspiration and lives off riffs from its E Minor predecessor. Silvestri treats the last movement as a series of lush episodes, vignettes of color and melodic fragments, a bit of a march, a fugato based on motif better applied in the first of the Symphonic Dances.
Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks (20 November 1967) has nothing of the authenticity movement about it; Lush, over-scored with drums added, molten and romantic, the performance could wear the mantle of Stokowski without apologies. The Beethoven Eighth (6 December 1966) generates an autumnally rich color, rather soberly determined and even superheated, reminiscent of Erich Kleiber. No repeat in the first movement, furioso, a spasm of energy that points to the harmonic tumults of the Ninth Symphony. The metronomic Allegretto scherzando continues with the same weightiness, the same rich coloration in the strings and winds, a high melodic contour, a bass line that would make Koussevitzky envious. The Menuetto moves fast, its potential for revolution barely contained. Sizzling tremolandi to open the last movement, which does not wait to explode its motifs into saturnalia. More foamy counterpoint for the Allegro vivace, all of the lessons of the Eroica in concentrated doses. Plangent harmony and Homeric wit converge for the heady brew to the finale, and we realize that Silvestri has had us rethinking this music all along.
The symphonic poem Paris by Frederick Delius (2 March 1967), subtitled Song of a Great City, has its great acolytes in Beecham and Barbirolli. But Silvestri imbues the atmospheric piece with a fluid life of its own, doubtless inspired by the conductor’s adoption of Paris as a second home for many years. Wonderful coloration from the cor anglais and the viola section and harp. Given Delius’ strong suit for landscape and surface melody, with occasional bustle and cabaret effects, the music provides a luxuriant vehicle for the Bournemouth winds and brass, glassy polish sans depth. Finally, a magnificently broad reading of Don Juan (5 January 1967), plastic, exuberant, erotic, and self-indulgent. If the music threatens to swamp itself in molasses, it still reminds us of what a potent orchestrator Strauss remains to inspire a conductor who relishes colors for their own sake.
— Gary Lemco