, September 2011
BRAHMS, J.: Symphony No. 1 / ELGAR, E.: Enigma Variations (BBC Symphony, Boult) (1971, 1976) ICAC5019
MAHLER, G.: Symphony No. 3 / DEBUSSY, C.: La mer (West, Cologne Radio Chorus and Symphony Orchestra, Mitropoulos) (1960) ICAC5021
BRAHMS, J.: Symphony No. 3 / TCHAIKOVSKY, P.I.: Symphony No. 6, “Pathetique” (Novaya Rossiya State Symphony, Bashmet) ICAC5023
ICA Classics continues to honour some of the great masters of the baton with impressive and well-transferred releases, most of them first-time releases. A smooth-sounding edition of Mahler’s Third with the Cologne Radio Symphony under Dimitri Mitropoulos just about pips rival transfers to the post (radio mastertapes have been used) and the coupling is a craggy, storm-tossed Cologne account of Debussy’s La mer which, like the Mahler, is from the tail-end of the conductor’s life (October 1960). This is pure “Turner-in-sound”, especially the closing “Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea”, which, to my mind at least, is as close to a Furtwängler La mer as we’re ever likely to get—unless one actually turns up! Brahms’s First with the BBC Symphony under Adrian Boult in 1976 is rather more temperate: straight-backed, admirably clear, rhythmically supple and with its big first-movement exposition repeat intact. A good recording, too, just as it is for a 1971 BBC SO Elgar Enigma Variations, where cleanly separated violin desks help balance the sound-picture. The well-known organist in the Elgar is George Thalben-Ball and, although I couldn’t in all honesty pretend that either performance is Boult’s most imposing on disc, both are well worth acquiring.
But the real surprise in this latest ICA Classics batch comes from viola player (as he’s principally known) Yuri Bashmet and the Novaya Rossiya State Symphony Orchestra—live recordings of Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique Symphony (2004) and Brahms’s Third (2005). Here everything holds the attention, whether in the sensitive phrase-shaping and careful balancing of the Brahms, or the searing intensity of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth (a hairraisingly fast march-scherzo followed by a gentle but very slow opening to the finale). The Allegro con grazia second movement is both swift and uncommonly delicate, and everywhere you sense an alert rostrum presence approaching the music afresh. Of the many instrumentaliststurned-conductors who have arrived on the scene in recent years, I’d say that Bashmet has to be among the most original. I look forward to hearing more rostrum work from him, much more.