Collection: Espana

COMPOSERS: Chabrier,Rimsky-Korsakov
LABELS: Decca
PERFORMER: LSO, Suisse Romande Orch./Argenta
CATALOGUE NO: 443 580-2 ADD (1957/58)

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This new series of reissues is perhaps Decca’s answer to Mercury’s ‘Living Presence’ and RCA’s ‘Living Stereo". The immediacy of the ‘Decca sound’ is particularly noticeable in the young Ashkenazy’s masterly Schubert performances. And there’s more Schubert from Rostropovich and Britten, who discover shade as well as light in the ‘Arpeggione’ and lend weight to the declamatory Bridge. Ashkenazy is technically flawless, although a mite polite, in his Mozart.

His reading of K271 confirms its status as an early masterpiece, but the less mature K246 draws no less sensitive a response. George Szell draws a wonderful depth and dignity from the LSO in its Brahms with Clifford Curzon, whose playing is consolingly broad and gentle.

In the 22-year-old Chung’s taut, sinewy Tchaikovsky, however, phrases end abrupdy and chord passages sound snatched. Such severity works better in the Sibelius.

One can’t help craving for more roisterous readings on the ‘Espana’ disc from the overly clean and conditioned LSO and Suisse Romande Orchestra under Ataulfo Argenta. On the other hand, Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony suits the mellow but heartfelt interpretation of the LSO and Maag. It is the vibrant sound that one marvels at in Ansermet’s Firebird more than the performance, which is club-footed where it needs to be fleet (it is coupled with a nonetheless intriguing rehearsal disc).

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Better is Marriner’s stunning Stravinsky, taped when the ASMF was in its prime. Finally, musicologist Deryck Cooke provides a fascinating two-disc analysis of Wagner’s Ring (Decca 443 581-2, D692), and there’s also a fine Bluebeard (see Opera). Sam Busny