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Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Semiramide – Overture [12:42]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Symphony No. 4 in D minor, Op 120 [24:34]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op 68 [42:14]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Guido Cantelli
rec. live 11 May, 1953, Royal Albert Hall, London. Mono ADD

This CD preserves the whole of a concert given by Guido Cantelli in May 1953. The concert was broadcast by the BBC and the disc, billed as “First CD Release” carries the inscription that what we hear is “A BBC Recording”. That’s all fine and completely accurate. What is slightly surprising, though, is that so far as I can see there’s no explicit mention of the source of the recording other than a mention, in very small type, that the material has been sourced from the Lyrita Recorded Edition Trust Archive. Many MusicWeb International readers will be familiar with the steady stream of off-air recordings of British music that Lyrita has been issuing under the [Richard] Itter Broadcast Edition imprint. But Richard Itter, the founder of Lyrita, didn’t confine himself to recording at home broadcasts of British music; his tastes ranged far more widely. I believe I’m correct in saying that this present release is one of the first under a new deal whereby ICA Classics will release selected Itter recordings of non-British music. Released at the same time as this Cantelli disc is a four-disc set of Klemperer performances, also from the Itter archive (ICAC 5145). I’ve not heard that set.

Cantelli and the Philharmonia recorded both these symphonies for EMI in the days immediately following the concert and I’ve owned copies of those commercial recordings for many years. The Brahms was set down in Kingsway hall on 21 and 22 May 1953 and was issued by Testament some years ago (SBT 1012). The Schumann was taped in the same venue on 15 and 21 May. That was issued on EMI Reférences coupled with Cantelli’s superb 1955 recording of the Brahms Third, also with the Philharmonia: I think it may still be possible to obtain that disc (CDH 7 63085 2). As you’d expect, there are few interpretative differences that I can spot between the studio performances and those preserved on this ICA disc but, inevitably, the sound is better on the commercial recordings.

The sound is satisfactory on the ICA disc, though the cavernous acoustic of the Royal Albert Hall makes its presence felt at times – for example when sec chords are sounded in the Rossini. The other thing that the Rossini recording throws up is a rather fierce sound in the loud tuttis, especially when the percussion is involved. This fierceness isn’t a deal-breaker and I wasn’t as conscious of it during the symphonies – or maybe my ears had adjusted. Rossini’s overture is despatched with precision and panache and I enjoyed the performance.

A few years ago, I gave a warm welcome to another ICA Classics disc which included a live Cantelli account of the Schumann Fourth. That was part of a programme given with the Philharmonia at the 1954 Edinburgh Festival. If you don’t have that disc and intend buying this present Schumann/Brahms release I’d urge you to investigate also the 1954 concert. The Schumann duplication will be worthwhile since the disc also includes some fantastic Debussy performances (review). That Edinburgh disc preserves Cantelli’s Schumann in slightly better sound because the Usher Hall acoustic was less resonant. However, the Albert Hall performance is still a fine experience. Cantelli’s account of the first movement is here lithe and full of energy in the Lebhaft first movement. Indeed, I may be mistaken but I fancy that in this movement the music has slightly more of a spring in its step than was achieved in the studio recording. The second movement is nicely poised. The Scherzo is marked by well-sprung rhythms while I like the warmth and supple phrasing that Cantelli inspires in the trio. At the start of the finale Cantelli generates good tension in the Langsam episode after which he invests the Lebhaft music with brio; the performance is spirited and good natured. Overall, this is a fine Schumann Fourth.

The Brahms symphony begins with a big, purposeful account of the introduction. The main Allegro then bounds along and the performance of the movement exudes vitality. The slow movement is beautifully done. Cantelli paces the music extremely well and the Philharmonia strings distinguish themselves. So, too, do the several soloists, notably the principal oboe and, at the movement’s end, the leader and the principal horn. The third movement is taken quite swiftly, the music light on its feet. Cantelli invests the opening of the finale with a good deal of tension and when the violins have their big tune it has fine momentum and abundant confidence. The performance of the Allegro non troppo, ma con brio is ardent and exciting, leading to an exultant rendition of the closing pages. Unsurprisingly, the audience is most enthusiastic at the end. There is applause after each of the three works.

These Cantelli symphony performances are a welcome complement to the contemporaneous studio recordings. Though the sound isn’t as good as EMI’s engineers achieved in the Kingsway Hall the opportunity to hear the great and short-lived Italian conductor caught on the wing is not to be missed.

John Quinn



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