ANTHOLOGY OF THE ROYAL CONCERTGEBOUW ORCHESTRA - VOL. VI
This is the last in the admirable series of multiple-CD sets celebrating history of the magnificent Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra, since 1988 named the Royal Concertebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam. All of the previous issues were covered on this site: Volume I (1935-1950) (REVIEW); Volume II (1950-1960) (REVIEW); Volume III (1958-1969) (REVIEW); Volume IV (1970-1980) (REVIEW); and Volume V (1980-1990) (REVIEW). There also is an invaluable set of live performances by Eduard van Beinum recorded from 1935 to 1958, the year of his untimely death. There have been other multi-disk sets of interest to Concertgebouw collectors. The defunct Andante label had a 4-disk set of live performances (REVIEW), and the defunct Maestro Appassionato label offered a fascinating 10-CD set of live and commercial recordings conducted by Willem Mengelberg (REVIEW). Prior to establishment of the RCOA label, the Dutch issued their 10-CD set of Mengelberg, live concert performances including many works he never recorded commercially. And Riccardo Chailly, conductor from to 1988 to 2004, has a 13-CD set of live recordings that includes a magnificent DVD of Stravinsky's Firebird Suite, Pulcinella and The Rite of Spring (REVIEW). And Bernard Haitink, who led the orchestra from 1959 to 1988, has his own 14-CD set of live recordings (REVIEW). Lastly, if you can find a copy anywhere, there is the essential Philips 4 DVD set of seven Mahler symphonies conducted by Haitink over a period of years at Christmas Matinee concerts (REVIEW). The audio of these performances was issued in the Philips Dutch Masters series (REVIEW), but the 4-channel sound on the DVDs is splendid. Look for this one.And for the legion of RCOA admirers, all of these are essential.
The new set has many treasures indeed, but, unfortunately, much of it is redundant. Although of course all of the performances are given virtuoso playing by the great orchestra, some are, to me, of little interest. German conductor Kurt Sanderling (who died in September 2011 at the age of 98) was well known for his Shostakovich, but this performance of Symphony No. 5 is unexceptional. His account of Bruckner's Symphony No. 3, one of the few Bruckner symphonies Sanderling conducted, is outstanding. Sanderling earlier had recorded the symphony with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, and a video has just been issued by ICA Classics with the BBC Northern Symphony. Bernard Haitink's Mother Goose is not necessary; his 1971 Philips recording is still available. Solti's Shostakovich Symphony No. 1 from 1991 was issued on Decca, Sawallisch recorded the Pastorale in 1960, and Harnoncourt recorded Mozart's Symphony No. 40 in 1983. Why the duplication? Unless you want to hear how these conductor's interpretation changed over the years, perhaps. Jean Fournet's 1959 Philips Faun was one of the orchestra's first stereo recordings; now we can hear his performance 35 years later. Or maybe not? The album lists Fournet as conductor, but the on-line identification states Chailly is on the podium (Fournet died in 2008 at the age of 95). Chailly recorded Zemlinsky's Op. 30 with Willard White for Decca—no reason for it's inclusion. John Eliot Gardiner's streamlined version of Schubert's Great C Major clocks in at less than 48 minutes, about the same length as his Vienna Philharmonic recording of a year earlier. And it is always a pleasure to hear Martha Argerich in live performance. It is a luxury to hear Marc-André Hamelin as pianist in Messiaen's Liturgies .Doubtless John Adams enjoyed conducting music of Ives and Takemitsu.
There are many contemporary works, many will be new to a majority of listeners. Zimmerman's 13-minute Trumpet Concerto ("Nobody knows de trouble I see") is a fiendishly difficult work tossed off with the greatest of ease by Peter Masseurs. The shimmering sounds of Feldman's Coptic Light are vividly captured in this performance conducted by Peter Eötvös. Luciano Berio's Sinfonia, with its grotesque treatment of the second movement of Mahler's Symphony No. 2, shocked audiences when it was premiered in 1969 with the composer conducting the New York Philharmonic. The Swingle Singers sang the premiere and since then have been identified with the work. The Boulez recording with the New Swingle Singers set the standard for this work, but those intrigued by this music surely will enjoy this stunning more recent performance led by the composer. And it surely is a luxury to hear the sonorities of Dutilleux's violin concerto in this sensitive interpretation by Charles Dutoit. Schreker's two songs are welcome, but it is unfortunate soprano Claudia Barainsky's singing is uneven—but we can enjoy the rich orchestral textures. Music of Dutch composers of course is included, works by Diepenbrock, Pijper, and Theo Loevendie, the latter represented by his 20-minute piano concerto beautifully played by Dutch pianist Ronald Brautigam—but it doubtful this will be played outside Holland.
As usual from this source, audio is exemplary beautifully capturing the magnificent acoustics of the famed hall. If you wish to hear RCOA performances after the year 2000 you'll have to rely on broadcasts on their syndicated series Live From the Concertgebouw, or on RCOA commercial releases. And we can hope for a Volume VII, which would include many of the best of live performances not issued commercially. Documentation is thorough and in three languages. Highly recommended!
R.E.B. (October 2011)