MAHLER: Symphony No. 7 in E minor
TANSMAN: Symphony No. 2. Four Movements for Orchestra. Symphonie
concertante (Symphony No. 3)
MUSSORGSKY: Pictures at an Exhibition. Night on Bald Mountain. Prelude
Valery Gergiev's LSO Mahler cycle continues with this extraordinary, vivid performance of Symphony No. 7 recorded during performances in March 2007 in London's Barbican Hall. Gergiev's brisk tempi add excitement to the reading, and it is a tribute to the London Symphony, particularly the brass section, that there are no mishaps. Well worth hearing, but I would not want to be without Michael Tilson Thomas's San Francisco recording, or the DVDs with Haitink/Royal Concertgebouw (REVIEW) or Abbado/Lucerne Festival Orchestra (REVIEW).
Polish composer Alexandre Tansman (1897-1986) had a varied career. He was encouraged by Stravinsky and Ravel, experimented in jazz, and composed music for six movies. Chandos has now taken up his cause; this is Volume III in their series of symphonies played by the Melbourne Symphony conducted by Oleg Caetani. Now we have symphonies 2 and 3 in their premiere recordings, the latter a symphonia concertante for piano quartet and orchestra, with that unusual scoring because the commission from the Queen of Belgium required that it be so. Symphony No. 2 was dedicated to Serge Koussevitzky who gave it its premiere in Paris in 1927. Koussevitzky continued to champion Tansman's music, and commissioned two piano concertos. Symphony No. 3 had its premiere in Brussels in 1932 with the composer conducting. Four Movements for Orchestra is a much later work, composed 1967-68, ending with a brilliant, jazzy Toccata. However, after the '40s, Tansman's music became less popular, and was seldom performed. While there is much of interest in Tansman's music, there is little that is original except for his imaginative scoring—pleasant but lacking the qualities that would make it standard concert hall repertory. These performances are all one could ask; it is great that the exciting conductor Oleg Caetani here has the opportunity to work with a truly first-class orchestra. The Chandos audio is excellent, with rear channels used solely for ambient sound.
Another Pictures at an Exhibition from Telarc? Their famous 1978 version with Lorin Maazel and the Cleveland Orchestra has held its place in the catalog since its original issue, and later Telarc issued a SACD recorded in 1991 with Yoel Levi and the Atlanta Symphony, that has the same (and rather short) program as this latest with the Cincinnati Symphony and Paavo Järvi. This new version has little to offer to challenge the best of the numerous recordings of the Ravel orchestration of Pictures, except that in the final pages Telarc's engineers have given us one of the loudest gongs you'll ever hear. The sound is excellent, wide in range, but definitely not "surround."
R.E.B. (October 2008)