A real slice of history, this, a well-aimed mining of the archive that finds the ill-fated Guido Cantelli (he died in an aircraft crash in 1956 aged 36) in vivid concert performances of music that he and the Philharmonia Orchestra perfected together and commercially recorded. If the interpretations are familiar, then it is another matter to hear renditions that are ‘on the wing’ as well as finitely rehearsed. Cantelli, effectively Toscanini’s heir, was nothing if not a stickler – of the notes, for balance and clarity, and also regarding a hall’s acoustic and how the orchestra was seated within it.
Sadly, the opening work of this Edinburgh Festival concert, Schumann’s Manfred Overture, is lost – ironically, it would have just fitted the CD – but we do have the rest of the programme. By the time of this Edinburgh evening, the Schumann Symphony and the Debussy Fragments had already been recorded by Cantelli and the Philharmonia, with La mer due in the studio a few days afterwards.
The Schumann, the composer’s familiar revised version, is given a direct, no-nonsense performance that if not always yielding enough, and sometimes precipitous, but which finds this orchestra-conductor partnership in top form. Like or not Cantelli’s approach, be assured it is what he wanted. The first movement seems a little inconsequential, though, partly because its exposition repeat is regrettably overlooked (a feature that Schumann added when re-working the score) and because Cantelli is just a little too restless with both the introduction and the allegro that follows. Clearly though the Philharmonia is inspired by a very complete conductor. For whatever reason the gap before the second movement is far too long; we should move straight into the ‘Romanze’, but presumably this is what happened on the night, and this movement is also fidgety, although Manoug Parikian offers an easeful if barely audible violin solo. The scherzo and finale are altogether surer with judicious tempos, a yielding trio, and an exhilarating finale that is perfectly paced (with moderation) and expressively shaded, until the required increase in speed for the coda, which here comes as a jolt.
The ‘Symphonic Fragments’ that André Caplet arranged from Debussy’s music for Gabriele d’Annunzio’s Le martyre de Saint Sébastien (1911) is wonderfully done, lit from within and with real fervour when required, exactingly and ecstatically played. The mono recording may be understandably limited, but a great occasion is still conveyed; the close of ‘Danse extatique et Final du Premier Acte’ is overwhelming. It might have been an idea to remove applause after the quiet ending of the ‘suite’ and go straight into the ‘dawning’ opening bars of La mer, which receives a fastidious reading, lovingly shaped, exquisitely detailed and vibrantly narrated; a real force of nature.