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Hugo WOLF (1860-1903)
Penthesilea: Symphonic Poem after Kleist [24:58]
Der Corregidor – Orchestral Suite (Arr. Hans Gál) [15:49]
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Symphony No. 1 in C major Op. 19 [26:31]
Invitation to the Dance Op. 65 (orch. Berlioz) [10:30]
Euryanthe: Overture, J.291 [8:58]
The Ruler of the Spirits: Overture, J.122 [6:19]
Abu Hassan: Overture, J.106 3:28]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
The Flying Dutchman: Overture [11:09]
Lohengrin: Prelude to Act I [8:28]
Prelude to Act III [3:35]
The Mastersingers: Prelude to Act I [9:56]
Tristan and Isolde: Prelude and Liebestod [18:03]
L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande (Wolf), Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Horst Stein
rec. 1973/77, Sofiensaal, Vienna; 1980, Victoria Hall, Geneva (Wolf)
ELOQUENCE 4825207 [67:35 + 81:26]

This generous compilation brings together three Decca LPs conducted by Horst Stein: Wolf (issued in 1982), Weber (1978) and Wagner (1974). Stein was chief conductor of the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande between 1980 and 1985, succeeding Wolfgang Sawallisch and Paul Kletzki. Stein made a number of Sibelius recordings that have been prized ever since their first issue. His Pohjola’s Daughter, Night Ride and Sunrise and En Saga are especially impressive from both a musical and technical perspective. However, Stein is probably best remembered for his interpretations of the Austro-German symphonic and operatic repertoire and this release finds him on home territory.

Penthesilea, completed when Wolf was 25 and was inspired by Heinrich von Kleist's gruesome play. Penthesilea was an Amazonian queen in Greek mythology. The symphonic poem is in three parts: ‘Departure of the Amazons for Troy’, ‘Penthesilea's Dream of the Festival of Roses’ and ‘Combats, Passions, Madness, Annihilation’. The work was composed at the suggestion of Liszt and Wolf’s composition certainly owes much to Liszt’s sound world. Unfortunately much of the music is loud, bombastic, thickly scored and tiring to listen to. The central movement provides the listener with some repose with a soaring, mournful melody on the strings. ‘Combats, Passions, Madness, Annihilation’ is dramatic in its own way but much of it is unremittingly loud or over-emotional and, quite frankly a bit corny. Stein certainly delivers a thrilling Technicolor performance and the orchestral playing is good, despite some patches of poor intonation in the winds and a string section that sounds thin and stretched. Wolf’s comic opera Der Corregidor is based on the short novel El sombrero de tres picos by Pedro Antonio de Alarcón. Manuel de Falla also drew inspiration from Alarcón’s story but that’s where the similarity ends. Wolf’s suite, consisting of four movements, doesn’t have the same memorability as Falla’s fine work. The lively Overture is followed by a rather charming Fandango, rudely interrupted by a March where the composer can’t resist going over the top. The Nocturne is dark and sombre and features a rather beautiful melody given to the violins and clarinet. It’s hard to be especially enthusiastic about Wolf’s orchestral music based on the works presented here. However, they are rarely heard and lovers of the Liszt idiom may warm to them. The sound is detailed but very bright and slightly cramped.

From the opening bars of the Weber symphony one is immediately struck by the superior playing of the Vienna Philharmonic when compared to their counterparts in Switzerland. One is also struck by the mellow and far more natural sounding recording from the Sofiensaal. In particular the strings are sweeter and more full-toned and there is more depth to the sound stage. The playing also has greater poise and control than the Wolf recordings. Weber wrote his first symphony when he was 21 years of age but already his natural gift for melody is shining through. The bustling first movement (Allegro con fuoco) has a gentle, catchy melody that could easily have been written by Rossini. The Andante is darkly scored, emotionally affecting and dramatic. Weber also uses the woodwinds to great effect as they weave their intimate solo lines. The last two movements have the charm of a Schubert symphony. The quicksilver Scherzo features a virtuosic part for the oboe and the Finale includes more felicitous, tuneful writing for the oboe and flute. This may be an immature work but it is tuneful and very well scored for small orchestra. The Invitation to the Dance and the three overtures are marvellously played by the orchestra and complete what was always a very good LP.

The Wagner recordings offer more superbly opulent Decca sound from Vienna. The Flying Dutchman is well played but is lacking forward thrust and excitement. It’s far too genteel and easy going. The Lohengrin ‘Prelude to Act I’ benefits enormously from the radiant Viennese strings but the ‘Prelude to Act III’ is ruined by the curious choice to use the truncated ending as heard in the opera house. i.e. the opening bars of the Bridal Chorus, instead of the usual concert version. The Mastersingers is broad and romantic but outstanding in its own way. Stein then really comes into his own in the Prelude and Liebestod. There is some magical playing from the orchestra and a tangible sense of electricity.

Putting my own personal feelings about the Wolf items to one side this set is good value and well worth buying for the two Vienna LPs included on it. The Swiss recording can be regarded as something of an unusual bonus.
John Whitmore



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