German Dances [Selection of 6 from K600, K602 & K605]
Horn Concertos in D, K412; in E flat, K417; in E flat, K447; in E flat, K495
Lucio Silla, K135 Overture
Notturno for four orchestras, K286
Serenade in D, K203
Serenade in D, K320 (Posthorn)
Serenata notturna, K239
Symphony No.28 in C, K200
Symphony No.29 in A, K201
Symphony No.32 in G, K318 (Overture in the Italian Style)
Symphony No.34 in C, K338
Symphony No.38 in D, K504 (Prague)
Thamos, König in Ägypten, K345 Four Interludes
Barry Tuckwell (horn)
London Symphony Orchestra [Symphonies 32 & 38; Horn Concertos; Notturna; German Dances; Thamos; Lucio Silla; Serenata notturna]
New Symphony Orchestra [Serenade, K203]
LOrchestre de la Suisse Romande [Symphonies 28, 29 & 34; Posthorn Serenade]
Recorded between 1950 and 1961: SRO recordings made in Victoria Hall, Geneva; LSO & NSO recordings made in London in either Kingsway Hall or Walthamstow Assembly Hall
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: February 2007
CD No: DECCA ELOQUENCE
476 9692 [Symphonies 28, 29, 32 & 34; Serenata notturna]
476 9700 [Horn Concertos; Notturno]
476 9701 [Serenades]
476 9702 [Symphony 38; Lucio Silla; Thamos; German Dances]
Duration: 76 minutes
These Mozart recordings under the Swiss musician Peter Maag (1919-2001), “a highly competent conductor whose repertory was extensive”, are full of interest.
The (mono) Geneva tapings of symphonies 28, 29 and 34 – made in 1950 and 1951 when Maag was assistant to Ernest Ansermet, the founder-conductor of the Suisse Romande Orchestra – sound rather fizzy and are not stable in pitch; plus Maag is parsimonious (and inconsistent) with repeats: nevertheless, he brings much style and equilibrium to these works and a shapely warmth that is very likeable. Shortcomings aside, these versions are not only worthy of attention but repay repeated listening. The opening movement of No.29 is convincingly sprightly and dance-like, Maag’s attention to detail, not least in the bass, keeping the ears nicely perked up, and the Andante is very expressive. The first movement of No.34 is deftly co-ordinated and the finale is robust (yet it’s always difficult to listen to this movement given Dean Dixon’s supreme achievement of it with the Prague Chamber Orchestra for Supraphon). On the same Eloquence CD, the leap to stereo (as engineered by Kenneth Wilkinson) is ‘shocking’, so too the more unified response of the London Symphony Orchestra, but the ‘flavour’ of the Geneva-based ensemble is to be treasured! The Sinfonia that is Symphony No.32 is made bountiful – but one has to be less generous in commenting on this transfer, which teeters on the border of being over-processed – and Serenata notturna is a delight as performed, the concertante string quartet (double bass replacing cello) features four ‘LSO Legends’: Hugh Maguire, Neville Marriner, Simon Streatfield (these last two developed conducting careers, Marriner especially of course) and Stuart Knussen (father of Oliver). They play marvellously – as amply demonstrated by their collective eloquence in the slow ‘cadenza’ in the finale.
Step-forward another ‘LSO Legend’, Barry Tuckwell. His assumption of the solo parts in Mozart’s horn concertos is ripe, poised and witty. The 1959/1961 LSO may (now) sound a few string desks too many but the players’ support is unfailingly ‘friendly’ under Maag’s genial direction; balance is finely judged, also, affording Tuckwell a natural rather than spotlighted perspective. With moderate tempos and clarity of detail, these are lovingly civilised renditions. In the booklet of this CD Tuckwell recalls Maag thus: “…it was John Culshaw who saw the promise in this less than world famous musician. He (Maag) was, for me at least, the first conductor who spent a lot of attention to stylistic detail and certainly made the London Symphony Orchestra a better ensemble”. Filling up this disc is the curious Notturno, requiring four distinct groups of instrumentalists (each of strings and two horns). Such spatial requirements are perfectly managed here – in 1959, and with no trickery whatsoever, and if the music is no masterpiece it is played and conducted as if it is.
On the third CD, the brace of (mono-recorded) serenades affords particular pleasure. The New Symphony Orchestra, something of an ad hoc band that made use of the best players in London on the day (in January 1955), plays with refinement and sheen under Maag’s cultivated direction; eight concise movements, three of them minuets, each with their own charm and brought off here in lively and vivid fashion. It’s a shame that the rich-toned violin soloist in the second movement Andante is unnamed. Returning to Geneva for the ‘Posthorn’ Serenade (this instrument being featured in the sixth movement, which might just be a trumpet here!) brings something even more vital, a thoroughly engaging account (from 1951). Especially jaunty is the fourth movement Rondo, in which the SRO wind soloists have a field day; by contrast, the following Andantino is heavy-hearted … such sorrow being blown away by the finale, not pummelled through, its momentum being generated internally.
Back to London, the LSO, and stereo, for a much-admired (in its day, 1959) ‘Prague’ Symphony – a version that can still hold its head high. Maag’s is a weighty conception tempo-wise and a lucid one texturally (hard-stick timpani and lucid woodwinds). Here Maag observes the exposition repeats of all three movements, although it could be argued that the first two in fact benefit from not being heard again – a case of truly great music needing to go onwards rather than back. Maag, while not quite matching, say, Kubelík’s sovereign command of line in this work (in particular a Bavarian Radio recording now on Orfeo in which Kubelík is rightly ungenerous with repeats), leads an uncommonly fine account; the one snag is his ‘adagio’ treatment of the central Andante: such a tempo and the repeat make this the longest movement and out of proportion. Still, at least Maag asked for ‘short’ grace notes (important) and his heart was undoubtedly in the right place (if just a little too savouring). The remaining items on this disc make attractive makeweights – the opera overture turned to a nicety; the Interludes from the incidental music for ‘Thamos’ full of suspense and richness; and the selection of German Dances leaps off the page.
Thoroughly recommended, then, buy any one of these fine releases and then buy all four! A handsome tribute to a musician’s musician.