Zubin Mehta: Live in front of the Grand Palace

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2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven; Mozart; Rimsky-Korsakov; Strauss I; Strauss II
LABELS: Nimbus
ALBUM TITLE: Zubin Mehta: Live in front of the Grand Palace
WORKS: Beethoven: Leonora Overture No. 3; Brahms: Symphony No. 1; Mozart: Sinfonia Concertante etc
PERFORMER: Ilya Konovalov (violin), Roman Spitzer (viola); Israel Philharmonic/Zubin Mehta
CATALOGUE NO: NI6227

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This two-CD set documents the first outdoor international orchestral concert of Western classical music to have taken place in Bangkok. The programme chosen to celebrate the Queen of Thailand’s 80th birthday may not have been particularly enterprising, though the unlikely juxtaposition of the refined Mozart Sinfonia Concertante with Rimsky-Korsakov’s virtuosic show-stopper Capriccio Espagnol works rather well.

No doubt the recording engineers faced considerable problems in providing an acceptable aural representation of the concert. I wasn’t that concerned by the decision to suppress audience applause at the end of each work, though the lack of adrenalin that normally accompanies live music-making is disappointing. More disconcerting is the orchestral balance, which is seriously awry in several crucial passages. The all-important bassoon thirds that follow the descending scale at the opening of Beethoven’s Leonora No. 3 are almost inaudible, whereas conversely the off-stage trumpet solo later on is blasted right in your ears. Similar problems surface in the Mozart where the violas obscure the oboe line in the opening tutti of the first movement, and in Brahms’s First Symphony the strings are too dominant at the opening while the horns are far more prominent than the rest of the brass at the close.

The most striking aspects of this concert are the energy and purpose of Mehta’s conducting and the undoubted warmth of the Israel Philharmonic’s string section which plays its heart out in the great melody in the Brahms finale. Less pleasing are the occasional moments of ragged ensemble and despite the honeyed sound of violist Roman Spitzer, the tonal picture in the Mozart is for the most part rather glutinous.

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Erik Levi