WORKS: Im Sommerwind; Passacaglia; Chamber Symphony No. 1; Five Orchestral Pieces, Op. 16
PERFORMER: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly
CATALOGUE NO: 436 467-2 DDD
The Chamber Symphony, the nearest work in this selection to being popular, feels out of place among three works for large orchestra, and the performance takes time to settle. Gusty dynamics and a curious rigidity of rhythm suggest a concern to recapture this ebulliently Romantic music for Modernism; the scherzo spins almost out of control. The always tricky balance suffers from insufficient bass (and the high violin pizzicato gets lost); there is a sense of strain rather than exuberance, and such a densely contrapuntal texture cannot afford the luxury of horn vibrato.
The revised version of Op. 16 lacks the full orchestral palette of the 1909 original, and its first piece receives a curiously stiff reading. In general Chailly handles slow music, even the not-quite-magical changing chords of No. 3, better than fast, which helps the Webern selection.
The juvenile Im Sommerwind represents a Straussian phase of delicious textures but comparatively poor, overworked themes, and is sensitively played; the Brahmsian D minor Passacaglia, a masterpiece of thematic tautness, sounds like a stylistic throwback until its misty central section. Here it receives the best performance, with Chailly well in control of its rhetoric, the marvellous climax capped by a deserved indulgence in the tam-tam. Julian Rushton