Griffes, Korngold

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COMPOSERS: Griffes,Korngold
LABELS: ASV Gold
ALBUM TITLE: Griffes, Korngold
WORKS: Roman Sketches, Op. 7 (Griffes)
PERFORMER: London SO/Simone Pittau
CATALOGUE NO: GLD 4020
The short-lived American Impressionist Charles Griffes composed his Four Roman Sketches for piano in 1915/16, and subsequently orchestrated the first and last, ‘The White Peacock’ and ‘Clouds’. Now Craig Leon, producer of this disc, has skilfully given the other two the same Debussyan treatment, completing a substantial suite to put beside Respighi’s Roman pictures. The London Symphony Orchestra sounds well under the young Italian conductor Simone Pittau, though comparison of Griffes’s two orchestrations played by the Buffalo Philharmonic under JoAnn Falletta (on Naxos) reveals the extra freedom and finesse obtainable when orchestra and conductor are thoroughly familiar with each other and with the music. ASV’s recording is a little lacking in inner detail.

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The Griffes is paired (across a much too short six-second gap) with Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s half-hour-plus Symphonic Serenade for strings, written in the USA in 1947/48, but intended for the Vienna Philharmonic and as Viennese in orientation as the Griffes is French. The 64 strings that Korngold demanded (with for some unfathomable reason an extra double-bass) sound suitably opulent, even if the recording might glow a little more. But the Mahlerian slow movement doesn’t quite bear the weight of Pittau’s very slow tempos, and several other passages sound a little too cautious. By comparison, Matthias Bamert is altogether more purposeful, while with (presumably) more rehearsal time the BBC Philharmonic strings are by no means outclassed by the LSO. And Chandos’s all-Korngold programme provides a more appropriate context than the Griffes completion, attractive though that certainly is. Anthony Burton