ALBUM TITLE: Brahms • Schumann
WORKS: Rossini: Semiramide – Overture; Schumann: Symphony No. 4; Brahms: Symphony No. 1 Philharmonia Orchestra/
PERFORMER: Guido Cantelli
CATALOGUE NO: ICAC 5143
Any recording from Guido Cantelli is precious: killed in an air crash aged 36, just a week after he had been appointed artistic director at La Scala, he was the one young Italian who excited Toscanini. We have Richard Itter to thank for this bootleg of an entire Philharmonia concert, broadcast by the BBC from the Royal Albert Hall in 1953. The sound quality improves as it progresses: Cantelli’s party piece, Rossini’s Semiramide Overture, sizzles with nonchalant panache, but it’s filtered through a loud hiss and intermittent interference.
In his fiery Schumann Fourth, the first movement hurtles forward, the ensemble straining at the leash. It’s a thrilling ride, despite sound distortion in the forte passages. Wind and horn solos are characterful, if not always pristine: at the opening of the Romanze, for example, the tuning curdles. Predictably, the Scherzo grabs attention, cutting through the cavernous Albert Hall acoustic, while the finale Lebhaft has a boisterous energy, its presto finale leaping into a blaze of applause.
In contrast with lithe, clean recordings by modern maestros, this Brahms First Symphony comes with dirt under the fingernails and an undeniable halo of majesty. From the apocalyptic opening timpani, there’s a real sense of occasion and mystery that no amount of interference can mask. The Philharmonia strings generate a fug of warm resonance, steaming in with real ballast and bassy depth. Cantelli also gives us something all too often missing from today’s urbane, athletic readings: passion.