Friday, 16 September 2011

CD Reviews (The Straits Times, September 2011)

MAHLER Symphony No.10
The Philharmonia / London Symphony
Berthold Goldschmidt
Testament 1457 (3 CDs) / ****1/2

When Gustav Mahler died in 1911, he left his Tenth Symphony unfinished. All that existed was a fully orchestrated Adagio, a brief Purgatorio third movement and sketches of three other movements. A number of scholars and musicologists took their turn to “complete” it, but it is Deryck Cooke’s performing version that is most often heard and recorded today. This album is a valuable historical document as it presents for the first time on record the World Premiere, performed at the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts in 1964 by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Berthold Goldschmidt. The monoaural sound and sometimes ragged playing should not be an impediment to enjoyment and illumination.

But first listen to the 35-minute lecture-demonstration by Cooke himself, a highly lucid and eloquent account of his reconstruction with illustrations on the piano and orchestral fragments. Follow up with a 1960 performance of bleeding chunks by The Philharmonic Orchestra for BBC’s Third Programme. It was after this when further sketches were found and with approval from Mahler’s widow that the completed Cooke version became a part of history itself. One does not need to be an aficionado or specialist to appreciate the value of this ground-breaking production.

VERDI Four Sacred Pieces / Hymn of the Nations
Orchestra & Chorus of Teatro Regio, Turin
Chandos 10659 / ****1/2

The Requiem Mass was indisputably Giuseppe Verdi’s greatest choral work. This enjoyable album is a handy supplement, gathering his other choral music which share a similar vein of piety and patriotism. First listen to his Four Sacred Pieces, disparate works incorporating his Stabat Mater and Te Deum, some of his most substantial music in traditional settings. The Ave Maria and Laudi alla Vergine Maria, both sung a cappella, are gems of intimacy and conciseness. The chorus of Turin’s royal theatre provide good, solid, old-fashioned performances in the best tradition of Italian opera houses.

If Libera me, Domine sounds familiar, it is because this was originally conceived for a projected requiem in memory of Rossini. The requiem did not come to fruition, so Verdi reused it with some changes for his definitive Requiem in memory of Manzoni. The curiosity of this disc is the vulgar Hymn of the Nations, composed for the London International Exhibition in 1862. It combines heroic tenor aria (with the excellent Francesco Meli) with a triumphal march (foretelling the pomposity of Aida) and the national anthems of Britain, France and Italy thrown into a contrapuntal fray. Tacky, but who could deny Verdi’s craftsmanship here? Here are the sublime and ridiculous contained within 71 memorable minutes.

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