BBC Legends – Constantin Silvestri (2)

0 of 5 stars

Beethoven
Symphony No.8 in F, Op.93
Debussy
La mer – three symphonic sketches
Delius
Paris: a Nocturne (The Song of a Great City)
Handel arr. Harty
Music for the Royal Fireworks
Rachmaninov
Symphony No.3 in A minor, Op.44
Strauss
Don Juan, Op.20
Walton
Partita for Orchestra

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
Constantin Silvestri

Recorded between 1965 and 1967 in the Winter Gardens, Bournemouth


Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: May 2007
CD No: BBC LEGENDS
BBCL 4207-2 (2 CDs)
Duration: 2 hours 33 minutes

As for the previous Constantin Silvestri issue on BBC Legends, this is a mouth-watering collection on paper! And, also as before, the listing swells Silvestri’s discography with music of substance and with an interesting cross-section of repertoire. (Please see link below for some Silvestri biography.)

I opted for the second disc first. It opens with Hamilton Harty’s full-orchestra re-scoring of Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks (recorded in 1967). Silvestri can be portentous here, although the ‘Alla Siciliano’ is quite lovely, but Harty himself was a mercurial guide to music and one imagines he intended more of a twinkle in the eye in performances of his arrangement. Silvestri can be heavy and bombastic. Beethoven 8 (1966) is explosive in the first movement, too driven, and there’s a shortage of wit in the metronome-inspired second movement. A feeling of abruptness continues with the Minuet, little affection is shown. The finale, too, is no more than disciplined. Light and shade there may be, as well as some fluctuations of pulse, but there is much more to this music than giving it a good battering!

There follows, however, a most compelling account of Delius’s Paris (1967) – this was a city that Silvestri knew well, it was his first base after leaving Romania – a performance full of atmosphere, exuberance and tenderness. And what a fine piece Delius’s ‘The Song of a Great City’ is. It’s music with some kinship to Richard Strauss’s. His Don Juan (1967) completes the second CD. Silvestri makes the ‘hero’ somewhat playful seducer, a graceful lover; this is a long-breathed version bathed in washes of sound, full of enquiry and suspense, with excellent solos (violin, oboe and clarinet) and plenty of incident to sustain Silvestri’s generosity of phrase and unfolding of the drama. (One passage introduces a momentary change of pitch.)

The first disc, of three masterpieces (two of them underrated, the Rachmaninov and Walton) begins with Walton’s flamboyant Partita (1965). If George Szell’s classic recording is not emulated, Silvestri certainly achieves a virtuoso response from the Bournemouth Symphony in a rendition of swagger and swing in the first movement ‘Toccata’, as well as being suitably up-tempo. Sultry swaying informs the ‘Pastorale Siciliana’ and a spirit of adventure and tongue-in-cheek wit the final ‘Giga burlesca’. Silvestri’s attention to detail, commitment and intensive rehearsals all pay dividends here; the music is relished and the final page jumps for joy.

La mer (1965) lacks for repose at times but is always alive and eventful. This is the roughness, but not the greyness, of the North Sea. Silvestri conjures waters that can be choppy and unpredictable; and while one can regret that Silvestri is navigating a speedboat at times, he steers a clear course very proficiently and he has the orchestra following his route-map with certainty. The finely judged short pause between the first two movements seems ‘as performed’. ‘Play of the Waves’ is electrifying, manic even; yet, again, the orchestra’s control and deft response is very impressive, and there’s no doubting the excitement that is generated. Is this Silvestri being deliberately anti-Impressionist on Debussy’s behalf? The finale is of controlled tempest and vivid swells; Silvestri ignores the ad lib brass fanfares (a shame), but one’s inner ear can’t help but hear them. This account of La mer is not for everyday listening, but it sears its way into one’s consciousness very effectively.

Silvestri sees Rachmaninov’s Third Symphony (recorded in 1967) as more Russian than American, no Hollywood ‘glamour’ here, and while he might short-change what can seem a seductive work, Silvestri’s response to the music’s volatility, soulful utterances and yearning expression is en rapport. He even makes the excision of the first movement exposition convincing (few conductors can do this, although the loss of the one in Beethoven 8 just seems parsimonious). The slow movement, enclosing a scherzo, is notably penetrating to Rachmaninov’s emotions and the central faster music seems an organic extension of it. Silvestri’s (welcome) Slavonic view of this great work concludes with a finale that is as articulate as it is driven, a carnival atmosphere tinged by regret and not really exorcised by the fugue that erupts at the mid-point (a similar structural procedure to the contemporaneous First Symphony of Walton: did Silvestri ever conduct this?). The closing bars, nostalgic then desperate, again show Silvestri’s close identification with this music.

A few reservations, then, but only really with the Handel/Harty and Beethoven, for the rest are thrilling performances that eagerly demand an encore listen. The mono tapes enjoy Tony Faulkner’s expert transfers in which all the frequencies (especially in the nether and pianissimo regions) are uniformly pristine. Is there any more Silvestri in the Bournemouth vaults?

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