Berlin Classics: Eterna Classics

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Berlin Classics
CATALOGUE NO: See text for individual catalogue numbers

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Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, numerous recordings made in the former GDR have gained a wider audience through companies such as Berlin Classics. The label’s Eterna Classics reissue series replicates the original content and packaging for a fascinating, if uneven selection of material.

It includes IVES’s Holidays Symphony (0032462 BC, £8.99) with the Leipzig RSO under Wolf-Dieter Hauschild. The composer’s hazy, sustained string-writing in ‘Washington’s Birthday’ and ‘The Fourth of July’ is beautifully weighted and dark, though the frequent references to hymn and popular tunes are, for the most part, imbued with little stylistic flair or comprehension.

It hardly displaces the more idiomatic, technically adroit Bernstein or Tilson Thomas (Sony). Kurt Masur’s fluent, fleet Leipzig Gewandhaus MAHLER Seventh (0032432 BC, £8.99?) stands out for the clarity of the composer’s chamber-like textures in inner movements.

Just don’t expect the demonic, eerie undercurrents that Bernstein and Kubelík (both DG) bring out in this symphony. Moreover, the Leipzig brass falls short of the macho heft of its Chicago colleagues under Abbado (DG) or Solti (Decca), to name other mid-price contenders.

There’s nothing special about a solidly played, opaquely engineered 1965 Václav Neumann/Leipzig Gewandhaus selection of BRAHMS Hungarian Dances and DVORÁK Slavonic Dances (0032452 BC, £8.99), especially in light of the fact that Neumann later made superb complete recordings of the Dvorák for Supraphon and Canyon.

Audiophiles will be happy to show off their systems with Heinz Rogner’s JANÁCEK Sinfonietta and Taras Bulba (0032422 BC, £8.99), though the Berlin RSO doesn’t come close to the technical flexibility and expressive variety typifying the Mackerras and Ancerl benchmarks (Decca and Supraphon).

Yet Rogner and his musicians heroically rise to the ambitious dimensions of MIKIS THEODORAKIS’s sprawling, overwrought Third Symphony for soprano soloist, chorus and orchestra, recorded live at its 1982 premiere (0032412 BC, £8.99).

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JOHN CORIGLIANO’s more modestly scaled First Symphony seems positively Mozartian by comparison, embodying a more organic, purposeful kind of stylistic pot-pourri.