CATALOGUE NO: See text for individual catalogue numbers and BBCMusic Magazine Direct prices
DG continues to mine its podium treasures by way of budget-priced box sets. Eugen Jochum’s 1971-3 HAYDN London Symphonies (Collectors Edition 474 364-2, £31.99) has long been held as a catalogue staple, and its myriad virtues continue to stand the test of time.
By contrast with today’s more streamlined, harder-hitting period-instrument performances, Jochum employs larger forces and allows the London Philharmonic strings to sing out to their fullest potential.
At the same time, string and wind balances are ideally aligned, outer movements are generally fleet and spirited, and none of the composer’s humorous touches, felicities of orchestration, or unexpected harmonic twists is allowed to pass unnoticed.
DG also includes the first CD release of Jochum’s excellent Berlin Philharmonic accounts of Symphonies Nos 88 and 91, plus an earlier, more transparent No. 98 with the Bavarian RSO.
Compared to Leonard Bernstein’s incandescent and stylishly sound Haydn interpretations, his MOZART was less consistent, as DG recordings of the late symphonies bear out (Trio 474 349-2, £20.99). The G minor (No. 40) and Jupiter (No. 41) are weighty and grand, sometimes to a fault, while the ‘little’ G minor (No. 25), A major (No. 29), Haffner (No. 35) and E flat major (No. 39) unfold with maximum urgency and minimum fuss.
As usual, the Vienna Philharmonic play like crazy for Bernstein: hear the horns let rip in the finale of the Jupiter, or the galvanic unison runs in that of the Haffner. Lastly, a pair of nine-disc anthologies respectively showcasing FERENC FRICSAY (474 383-2, £59.99) and IGOR MARKEVITCH (474 400-2, £59.99) mark the high points of DG’s Original Masters series thus far.
As one can readily hear, Markevitch melded superbly with the pre-Karajan Berlin Philharmonic (cracking Mozart!) and post-Toscanini Symphony of the Air (a marvellous Eroica and Brahms First), while inspiring the Orchestre Lamoureux to exceed itself in Brahms, Beethoven, Wagner, Debussy and Tchaikovsky. That also holds true for lightweight fare like Gounod’s Second Symphony, Gluck’s G minor Sinfonia and Cimarosa’s Flute Concerto.
A taped interview with Markevitch further confirms that the conductor cared deeply what his recordings sounded like. Fricsay was no less a studio perfectionist and a maniac for clarity.
Cases in point: the fleet, opera buffa-like Beethoven First and Mendelssohn Midsummer Night’s Dream, the nimblest Hindemith Symphonic Dances and Hartmann Sixth Symphony in captivity, vividly detailed renditions of Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain, Franck’s Symphonic Variations and Rachmaninov’s Paganini Rhapsody that almost make you forget pianist Margrit Weber’s distinguished solo work.
Turn next to one of the top five Tchaikovsky Sixths in the catalogue, a moving Haydn Seasons, the best mono Sheherazade, plus acutely judged Strauss waltzes and polkas. Connoisseurs of vintage orchestral recordings and exalted music-making should grab these sets without delay.