Symphony No.3 in F, Op.90
La mer – three symphonic sketches
Poème de l’amour et de la mer – II: La Mort de l’amour – Le temps des lilas
Janet Baker (mezzo-soprano)
London Symphony Orchestra
Recorded 17 April 1975 in Royal Festival Hall, London
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: July 2014
CD No: ICA CLASSICS ICAC 5123
Duration: 73 minutes
Evgeny Svetlanov (1928-2002) had a close association with the LSO, and this broadcast-live concert begins with a powerful, passionate and yielding account of Brahms’s Third Symphony (a work that gets a mention in an episode of Fawlty Towers!), vividly and dynamically presented. Svetlanov was no stranger to Brahms’s Symphonies – he recorded all four in the Soviet Union – and his reading of the Third in London is compelling in its colourful emotions. It’s a big performance (although some may feel Svetlanov’s omission of the first-movement exposition repeat lessens the music’s scale), spacious in tempo to heighten expression and given con amore, the LSO responding in kind; the eloquent third movement is particularly affecting.
In the Debussy, which closed the concert, Svetlanov presents ‘the sea’ in all its magnificence, friskiness and wildness. Full of atmosphere, there are times when he presses ahead a little too much and undoes the symphonic logic of the score, but there are many heart-rending moments, too, as well as much beguiling detail. The LSO is in fine fettle, flooding the hall with sound. Svetlanov here is most attracted to the dramatic aspects of Debussy’s score (he refined his view in Paris in 2001 – review-link below – and indeed was then chartering wondrous Celibidachian waters), sometime glossing over subtleties, but thrilling nonetheless. For the record, Svetlanov excludes the ad lib brass fanfares in the finale (here between 6’21 and 6’30); he played them later in Paris.
Coming between these works was the Chausson – given complete – but what ICA presents as a “bonus” is really a 50/50 of what took place, just the second vocal part of the work, although there is room on the CD for the orchestral interlude that is also omitted… What we have is fine and voluptuous, and becoming tender and intensely longing as the end comes into view; a shame that too-soon applause shatters the rapt mood (this and the lengthy between-movements audience hubbub could have been edited out – away from ‘being there’ it is all rather irritating). Janet Baker and Svetlanov make a notable partnership (I recall them about this time in some wonderful Richard Strauss songs, also with the LSO), but I can’t help feeling (budgetary considerations aside) that a second disc would have kept faith with the music as given on the night and the singer’s many fans. Still, it is better than nothing (and anyway she recorded the Chausson with the LSO and André Previn for EMI); and certainly all the music-making here is involving and vibrant, leaving a wish to return to it. For the most part, the BBC engineers captured well the occasion.