Tudor 7088
Tudor 7088

CD Reviews: Symphony No.3 Im Walde

Symphony No.3 Im Walde op.153 and "Italian" Suite for orchestra WoO.35

Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, Conductor: Hans Stadlmair
Tudor 7088 2001 DDD 76:50

Stadlmair's sterling work for Tudor continues with his second Raff symphonic recording - this time of the "Forest" Symphony No.3. For the last few years Raffianers have had three modern recordings from which to chose for this seminal work - D'Avalos on ASV, Watton on Hyperion and Schneider on Marco-Polo in descending order of preference.

Now Stadmair presents a clear first choice with this vivid and generally well thought out interpretation which benefits from a first-rate coupling..

In the late 1940s Bernard Herrmann broadcast legendary performances of Raff's 3rd. and 5th. symphonies - the latter eventually committed to vinyl as what is still the definitive recording of Lenore. Luckily, Herrmann's view of the 3rd. was preserved on a tape of the broadcast which reveals it to be more satisfying than any other previous CD offerings. So, how does Stadlmair measure up?

The short answer is pretty well. The Raff credentials of both conductor and orchestra have been well established in their two previous CDs and their performance of the 2nd. Symphony in Bamberg last December. The orchestra have the measure of what's needed to make an effective Raff performance and they produce it again here - round string tone, delicate and accurate woodwinds coupled with weight from the brass. Stadlmair understands that Raff's Allegros demand propulsive forward momentum, great dynamic contrast within the piece and the confidence to let the brass shout out when Raff calls for it, whilst at the same time not obscuring the delicate details which are one of his hallmarks. All this and more is present in Stadlmair's confident reading of the first movement, which thrills to the extent matched only by Herrmann's 52 year old performance. Even D'Avalos is not in the same league. A great start.

Listen to a musical extract This excerpt, the opening pages of the Symphony's first movement demonstrates Stadlmair's driving momentum [1:42]

All the more reason for disappointment, then, in the next two movements. Quite simply, the slow movement is far too fast and the fast movement is rather too slow. In the beautiful Largo two minutes is shaved off Herrmann's (admittedly rather indulgent) 10:33 timing and a minute off the three modern alternatives, reducing the contrast between the three sections and destroying the cumulative effect of the gorgeous dreamy melody in the outer ones. It is certainly well played and nicely phrased - but it's just too fast. The Allegro Assai which follows should be something out of Mendelssohn's "Midsummer's Night's Dream" - feather light and played with dazzling virtuosity. Here, Stadlmair adopts a rather more pedestrian pace - the precision is there in the playing, but one hardly gasps at the speed of it all. Perhaps the Dryads were dancing after a long night?

Stadlmair restores one's faith in him in the finale, which is quite magnificent. Herrmann's rather too frenetic pace is moderated just enough by Stadlmair to produce a menace and sense of thundering movement wholly appropriate to this picture of Wotan's wild hunt. The brass excel and the strings provide firm support, the contrasts of tempo and volume impeccably judged. Where Stadlmair comes into his own is in the long central section. Here, all his competitors lose their way and the passage tends to drag on, devoid of any interest. With the benefit of a modern recording denied us with Herrmann, we can hear how Stadlmair keeps the pace going by emphasising the menace of the scurrying orchestral detail behind the reminiscences of material heard earlier, so this bridge between the two hunt episodes thereby provides both contrast and continuity. The return of the first movement's opening melody is a heart-warming moment and nicely managed. All in all, in this fourth movement Stadlmair is in a class of his own .

Listen to a musical extract This excerpt is from the Symphony's last movement - the problematic central section [1:58]

Whilst the symphony is the major work on the disc, the "Italian" Suite is hardly an inconsequential piece with its five movements lasting over half an hour. If anything, Stadlmair's view of this sunny, charming work is even more persuasive than in the symphony and certainly more consistently successful. Again, he and the Bamberg Symphony are in a different league from the competition - this time Edlinger and the CSSR State Philharmonic Orchestra on Marco Polo. The two slow movements, with their seductive orchestration and languid melodies, are particularly successful and the concluding Tarantella is taken at a cracking pace. Unlike Edlinger, the opening Overture sounds much more Italian than German under Stadlmair's baton and the Pulchinella Intermezzo is dazzling carried off.

The Tudor sound quality is fully up to the standards of the previous CDs in the series and the Bambergers playing is excellent throughout. Only Stadlmair's wayward tempi in the symphony's two middle movements stops this being a five star recommendation - the other seven movements however still make it an essential purchase.

Mark Thomas

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