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8 February 2019, 21:41 | Updated: 8 February 2019, 21:46
Every week our albums guru David Mellor reviews the best of the new releases and reissues.
Schubert Symphonies 3, 5 and 8
Abbado Rediscovered Schubert: Symphonies Nos. 5 & 8
Vienna Philharmonic & Claudio Abbado
This month Ed Gardner embarks on a Schubert symphony cycle with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, where he was Principal Guest conductor from 2010-2016.
This is a good value, 74-minute issue, with neat, well-turned performances of Symphonies 3, 5 and 8. It’s a backhanded compliment though to observe, as I must, that the most convincing reading here is of the clever little Third, written when Schubert was 18, and free from any of the dark eddies that later permeated Schubert’s music. After a decent enough Fifth, the least satisfying performance here is of the Unfinished, a work embarked upon, and then left as a torso of two movements, in late 1822 / early 1823, when Schubert was traumatised by learning he had Syphilis.
Here we must let the best be the enemy of the good. Abbado’s Unfinished is in a different league to Gardner’s. This is a dark, deep, indeed profound account of a symphony which Abbado held dear. He chose it for his first concert as Principal Conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic in 1989, and it opened his very last concert in Lucerne in 2013, when he plainly knew, as everyone else did, that his brave 15-year battle against cancer was about to end.
The remarkable thing about this performance is that it has been dug out of the archives of the Vienna Philharmonic from 1971, when Abbado was only in his 30s. It’s a thought-provoking performance, well matched by a Fifth, where an unusually attenuated slow movement – almost three minutes longer than Gardner’s – finds eloquent pre-echoes of the mind-set of the Unfinished.
Willi Boskovsky - Master of the Waltz
Decca (50 CDs plus 2 DVDs)
These recordings, spanning 30 years of mainly Viennese music making, from the early 50s to the late 70s, chart the remarkable career of the violinist-turned-conductor Willi Boskovsky, best known for directing the celebrated New Year’s Day Concert for 25 years.
Boskovsky, born in 1909, was an exceptional violinist, who became one of the Vienna Philharmonic’s four concertmasters before he was 30.
In the late forties he founded the Vienna Octet and the first 15 CDs here, from the 50s, are memorable performances of some of the greatest chamber music of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert.
These were difficult times, and Boskovsky recalls founding the Octet in 1947 to play at the Lucerne Festival primarily so his colleagues could enjoy a proper meal for the first time in years!
The next 15 CDs, dating from the 60s, are celebrated recordings of Mozart’s dance music and the serenades and divertimentos he wrote to be performed at grand banquets. There’s also a bonus CD here of Beethoven’s dance music.
By now a popular conductor, Boskovsky formed a small instrumental group from the Philharmonic, under the name The Vienna Mozart Ensemble, and these CDs received first class reviews at the time, and still sound really well, offering a unique glimpse of a much underrated aspect of Mozart’s creative genius.
Most of the remaining albums here are of Strauss family music, with several atmospheric New Year’s Day Concert recordings included, interspersed with studio recordings that were extremely well received at the time, and still sound totally idiomatic. Nobody did it better.
This exceptional box with 50 CDs and 2 DVDs can be bought for around £90.
Sailing By - 25 British Light Classics
Iain Sutherland and his Concert Orchestra
I love light music, as regular listeners will know. And a Light Music Master I especially enjoy, not least because he’s still around, and a great companion for lunch and a drink, is Iain Sutherland, who has taken British Light Music all over the world. He’s not just an expert conductor, but also a fine arranger, and a composer in his own right, as I showed a few Sundays back featuring three of his Scottish arrangements with the City of Glasgow Philharmonic, he conducted for so many years, in my Burns Night programme.
Here we find Iain with 25 excellent pieces of British Light Music, very well recorded in the 80s.
Some of this music is very well-known, like the title piece Sailing By, or masterpieces like the Dambusters March, and Percy Grainger’s Shepherd’s Hey.
But, some are almost unknown. For instance I admire Ronald Binge, and three of his pieces are in our Hall of Fame, but I had never heard his Venetian Carnival until this disc appeared. Nor did I know Wilfred Joseph’s March Glorious, or Frank Bridge’s Rosemary and several others as well.
Plenty to enjoy here then, at a relatively modest price for an album only 30 seconds short of 80 minutes.
David Mellor is Opera and Classical Critic of the Mail on Sunday and presenter of his own show on Classic FM, Sundays 7pm.