Symphony No.5 in E minor, Op.64
Suite No.3 in G, Op.55 Theme and Variations
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Norman Del Mar
Symphony recorded January 1979 in Watford Town Hall; Theme and Variations in January 1978 in Walthamstow Assembly Hall
CD No: CLASSICS FOR PLEASURE 5758012 Duration: Reviewed: April 2003
Tchaikovskys 5th Norman Del Mar
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
We can agree or not on the merits of a particular performance. When it comes to, say, Gergievs much-vaunted Philips CD of Tchaikovsky 5, his pulling-about of sections simply renders Tchaikovskys structures meaningless; add in the Vienna Philharmonics plush textures for Gergiev to manufacture a product. Gergievs not for me then. But its not entirely down to tempo manipulation neither Koussevitzky nor Kletzki steer a clear line in their renditions of this symphony, which can be found in IMG Artists Great Conductors of the 20th Century series, yet both are altogether more convincing in terms of timing, and Kletzkis is a marvellous reading overall.
A snobbish or star-struck attitude might conclude that an English gent called Norman couldnt possibly deliver a Tchaik 5 that counts with the very best and be better than a hyped one. Well, he does. Norman Del Mar (1919-94) a horn player in the Royal Philharmonic and then Beechams assistant, a teacher, author (superb books on Richard Strauss, Mahlers 6th Symphony, Beethoven, and on the orchestra as an entity) and, as conductor, appointments with the BBC Scottish and in Gothenburg and Åarhus. While Del Mar could seem rather boffin-like in appearance (bushy eyebrows as I recall), he was both encyclopaedic in knowledge and analytical in purpose.
He also had a rousing baton, and here the LPO is indeed roused theres some thrilling music-making. In what seem unedited takes, Del Mar encourages both a sensitive and fully-charged traversal of Tchaikovskys dark-to-light symphony without descending into crudity. Neither is anything manicured or corrupted one is left with an honest and sympathetic account that lacks nothing in dynamic variety, colour or excitement all of it from within the music. At times in the first movement, Del Mar does hamper the flow with some less than felicitous and elongated touches but he has the spirit of the music, knows it from the inside and has the LPO at one with itself and with his thoughtful and heady approach. Del Mars is a beautifully detailed and balanced account.
Del Mars temperament commitment, enjoyment, some volatility, great learning behind the demonstration, musics phrases shaped with love (sometimes seduction) and rhythms nudged with a twinkle in the eye bring a wholly marvellous Theme and Variations; great piece! Here Del Mar opts for antiphonal violins (a shame he doesnt in the symphony), which increases the aural pleasure above that of a rollicking and imaginative performance. David Nolan is the rich-toned and virtuoso solo violinist.
For those that love this music, I suggest that Del Mar is an indispensable addition to the library. One or two recent CFP transfers have been dodgy (Loughrans Rachmaninov 2 being unlistenable), but the sound here is excellent and in good repair most probably because the re-mastering is from 1995; Im not sure that, in some cases, recent advances in computer technology have done any favours to the music itself just as long as all hiss is banished!
Thats another story meanwhile this particular CD is recommended with all possible enthusiasm.